“Not a day goes by when we don’t hear in the news about the upheaval our country is facing. A breathtaking array of technologies is making its way to market — virtual reality, artificial intelligence, robotics, smart devices, drones, biosecurity. We’ve only barely begun to scratch the surface of how these technologies will impact us — how we work (whether we work!), how we live, how we learn, our healthcare, our money, transportation, even how (and what) we eat.” – Donna Harris, Cofounder of incubation hub 1776
In the 2016 movie Arrival, a linguist claims that communication is the cornerstone of civilization; a physicist then retorts that the cornerstone is actually science. In a sense, they were both correct. SET believes that technology, the functional extension of communication with practical application for enabling both personal and societal progress, has always been the true cornerstone of civilization. And yet, as a society, we must acknowledge that our understanding of technology is often characterized as a set of engineers and computer science professionals whom we rely upon to run our lives. However, technology defines many aspects of our day-to-day lives and often determines our success. Luckily, mastering technology is no more or less difficult than learning a new language. We must ensure that subsequent generations succeed in achieving fluency in technology to both lead society and to take control of their own lives.
Computer programming (coding) is now a basic literacy that SET recommends be taught from Kindergarten to Grade 12. It is evident that through programs like President Obama’s initiative Computer Science for All, the incoming paradigm shift toward providing computer science courses to all students has already started. This, however, is not enough. Society must prepare for a near-future where all students learn coding/programming with the same intensity and rigour with which they learn English or Math.
Core subjects like English and Math teach students to think logically and analytically; however, teaching computer science with the same rigour and depth enables students to complement their thinking with a technological context. Imagine our students or employees come across a problem they would like to solve, in addition to analyzing the question and its potential solution(s) theoretically, with a computer science background, they could begin evaluating practical solutions as well. In the same way that the Maker Movement is bringing manufacturing into our homes, schools, and workplaces, fluency in coding/programming will give students the tools to create comprehensive solutions.
To better illustrate the direction of society’s needs, SET created a Hierarchy of Technological Literacy. The hierarchy’s base describes what civilization has been doing for generations: using technology to complete basic tasks such as calculating a figure or harvesting a crop. Upon transcending basic application of existing technology, at the next level users integrate various technological tools to complete larger, more complex tasks such as putting a home entertainment system together or building a computer. However, SET recommends that new generations of students move beyond this level and advocates universal attainment of a third level: obtaining sufficient knowledge in coding and programming skills to modify and further develop existing tools. While the target state for technological literacy focuses on capabilities around creation, achieving at least the ability to modify existing technology will be the new baseline required for success of coming generations.
The technological giants of industry, such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, learned to code and program outside their traditional school settings – in their case, they were able to succeed in learning independently. However, current and future pioneers need not overcome this learning gap on their own. Schools can and should provide the basic skills needed to create meaningful change in both private and public sectors.
Now, it is evident that we are no longer creating basic computing technology – it already exists- but are instead integrating countless tools to create technology with much greater complexity than at any other time before now to achieve eloquent and substantially useful outcomes. Therefore, it is inevitable that as long as civilization continues to progress through technology, our future leaders are best served by an academic culture with the foresight to merge computer science into the educational system as a new and vital core subject. Doing so will best enable students to build on basic computing knowledge to more effectively predict and address humanity’s needs in the future and compete on the global scale.
In order to begin a program like this, SET recommends:
- Hiring full time computer science teachers.
- Building time in the school day for required computer science courses.
- Developing a mandatory scaling computer science curriculum that is reevaluated every year for relevance, theoretical validity, and real-world applicability.
The recommendations above are complex and time intensive; SET recommends creating a working group of educational leaders and STEM teachers to begin early stage planning. The outcome of creating a comprehensive, scaling, and rigorous computer science program will better equip students and future teachers with evolving technological literacies.
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