Early introduction to computer science will prepare students for more careers

In Opinion
(Hannah Miller/Daily Titan)

At a summit in Tokyo on Friday, President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump made a statement that minorities and women need to better represented in STEM careers. Unlike any of the rhetoric her father spews, her proclamation was based on truths, especially when it comes to computer science.

The solution to this problem is simple, but only  if people are willing to recognize it.

In order to encourage women and minorities to take part in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers, they must be introduced to these subjects early in life. Computer science needs to be offered in elementary schools, just like any other core subject.

However, the people in charge of these schools aren’t on board — only 39 percent of primary school principals said their respective school board believes it is important to offer computer science in their schools, according to a 2016 report by Google and Gallup. These school boards need to reevaluate all the benefits of teaching computer science.

When students are exposed to STEM fields in elementary school, they become familiar with and interested in those subjects. In turn, they see them as viable career opportunities.

As it stands right now, computer science is the only STEM career where there are fewer graduates than job openings, so it’s a really great subject to take interest in.

Even for students who do not pursue careers as computer scientists, it remains important for them to learn about how computers function because they live in an age where computers and technology are essential. It ends up factoring into other career fields as well, like media and communications.

Donald Trump even said, in a scarce moment of sanity, that he will spend $200 million on STEM fields for schools. School districts should take advantage of this rare decision and put sizable amounts of funding into developing computer science programs along with the yearly curriculum of primary schools.

Computer science is rarely offered to students in primary, secondary or even high school. Only 25 percent of K-12 schools offer a computer science class, according to the 2015 Annual Report by Code.Org, a non-profit organization focused on providing minorities and women the chance to code in school.

Waiting until high school, or even college, to teach it ignores the fact that it takes a long time to understand the concepts of computer science.

Success in the field demands student to must master the challenge of programming. For those who haven’t done programming, it’s not as easy as actors wearing glasses and pressing a bunch of random keys on a computer make it look.

It’s essentially like learning a new language — in some cases, multiple languages.

The code includes everything a typical language would include — from punctuation to parts of speech and writing structure. For instance, semicolons are needed to program C++ to compile a line of code correctly and separate the lines from being muddled together, much like a form of punctuation.

Because learning the intricacies of the English language takes time, children start learning it at a young age. C++ and Java also take time to completely and should be taught early as well.

The entire English language isn’t dumped on a sixth grader and neither should an entire coding language.

Unfortunately, there were no universities in California in 2016 that graduated new teachers who were ready to teach, according to Code.org.

Not only do school districts need to recognize the importance of teaching computer science at a young age, but so do teacher credential programs.

Learning to code demands time and patience. It can be frustrating when introduced, especially when being off by one error or forgetting what something was named, but a gentle guide is needed to keep students from getting discouraged or frustrated.

Students may find the material challenging at first, but that isn’t a reason disallow the subject to be in elementary schools. Teachers familiar with the subject matter can interpret the concepts and challenges of coding to keep children from being excessively overwhelmed.

Encouraging students to practice coding in elementary schools makes the subject more familiar and comforting to students instead of something unknown and seen as too complicated.

By introducing it early on, the most ignored STEM subject could become a viable career, especially for those who wouldn’t have been interested in it otherwise.

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