President Obama’s recent announcement of a $4 billion initiative to bring computer science to all has many people scratching their heads.
“The message is that computer knowledge is needed in many professions. (The president mentioned auto mechanics and nursing.) But this is computer use, and does not require knowing how to program and design software,” writes Dr. Stephen Krashen in a letter to the New York Times.
According to the White House, we have a shortage of technology-trained workers – but this is a claim that Krashen and many others say is false.
So why 4 billion for this initiative? Certainly, there are many who would enjoy and benefit from computer sciences classes, but is it really worth this price tag – especially when school buildings are crumbling and class sizes are growing nationwide?
As with recent federal education initiatives, the ed-tech industry seems to have had a heavy hand in the plan.
“Coding is at the intersection of tech ed and EdTech,” Hadi Partovi, CEO of Code.org, told Tom Vander Ark in this article. “People ‘get’ online computer science.”
“It may be easier to sell blended computer science than blended math,” Partovi added.
Blended learning refers to a combination of online and in-person learning – a model that ed-tech investors like Vander Ark, who recently advised the Digital Learning Now Council, are eager to expand.
At the same time, Vander Ark believes that coding will be important as “machine learning” grows.
“Once we realize that machine learning is running in the background of our lives, we may be unhappy with the status quo because algorithms can only infer our behavior. You currently can’t tell the Zappos algorithm that you just bought sandals and don’t need another pair.”
(Apparently it’s not enough to just close the advertisement?)
Casting more doubt on the value of the plan is news that the White House initiative has partnered with two India-based IT offshore firms for financial assistance.
According to this article, the two companies, Infosys and Tata, delivered IT services to Southern California Edison and Northeast Utilities, where employees said they were forced to train foreign workers to take their jobs.
Sara Blackwell, a Florida attorney representing laid-off Disney IT workers explains: “Thousands of tech American workers are being fired and replaced” by firms “that are offering money to help educate Americans.”
Ron Hira, associate professor of public policy at Howard University warns that “any rational IT worker would tell young people to stay away from the IT profession.”
Meanwhile, Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, called the computer science for all effort a “social imperative” for schoolchildren.
What do you think? Do we need computer science for all?