Educating Students in Computer Science
If you are a computer scientist you are one of two things.
You are either a myopic misanthrope widget or you are a knowledgeable, mild tempered, socially attractive rock-star. At least, that is, in the eyes of elementary school children (and recruiters but that is a story for another time). The problem is that children are exposed to the former stereotype far more often than the latter and it negatively impacts their desire to enter computer related fields.
A recently published research paper in the Journal of Baltic Science Education titled “Stereotypes and Technology Education: Different Perceptions of Computer Career Among Elementary School Students” by Ching-Ching Cheng and Kuo-Hung Huang, found that when elementary students were asked about their willingness to choose a computer-related profession 52% answered negatively. This negative perception of computer science professions is a real problem. The United States is facing significant recruitment challenges. The challenge being that we are not producing enough skilled workers.
Recently, in an article on CNN, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe stated “I have 30,000 technology jobs open.” He went on to say that many open tech jobs in his state are in cybersecurity but that experienced workers just aren’t available. The article goes on to note that right now in the United States there are 5.4 million jobs open.
The good news is that companies are hiring, the bad news is that that many open jobs implies companies cannot find qualified candidates to fill their positions.
As a country we need to make sure that we are educating the children of today to be able to do the jobs of tomorrow. But there is more to it than that; we need to make an effort to make those positions look like attractive career choices. To face the recruitment challenges of tomorrow in an effective way we need to enlist educators, technology companies and computer scientists to work together in order to change the negative stereotypes envisioned by students regarding computer careers.
Changing those negative stereotypes will require increasing children’s opportunities and exposure to IT professionals and the various types of roles they perform. Curriculums for elementary schools need to be reworked in order to make sure that educators are engaging with students and their families in IT-related activities. To effectively disabuse children of the negative stereotypes and to facilitate a deeper understanding of computer careers we need to provide learning opportunities that expose children to the myriad of fascinating opportunities that exist in computer related professions. Recommendations from the study mentioned above include expanding curriculums to include speeches by computer professionals about their work, field trips to computer professionals’ workplaces, collaborative projects, and IT camps, to enhance the attraction of students, particularly female and minority students, to the profession.
A coordinated effort between educators, technology companies and today’s technology professionals to change the image of technology professional from myopic misanthrope widget to that of knowledgeable, socially attractive rock-star will go a long way toward making sure we are producing enough of the talented professionals our economy requires as we move into the future.