This week is Computer Science Education Week, or “CSEdWeek,” an annual campaign highlighting the importance of learning computer science. CSEdWeek is held in recognition of the birthday of computer science pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, widely known for popularizing the idea of “debugging” a computer—a phrase inspired by her team’s removal of an actual moth from a relay in a Harvard Mark II computer in 1947. (Its remains can be found in the group’s log book at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.) This year, non-profit group Code.org is driving CSEdWeek activities in more than 150 countries around the world and sponsoring an “Hour of Code” campaign that encourages all students to devote an hour this week to getting a taste of computer programming.
The ability to write computer software—to code—is an important skill. It moves people from being consumers of technology to creators of it. An understanding of coding helps people learn new strategies for solving problems and harness the power of computers to realize their own visions, whatever they may be. Everyone—scientists, fashion designers, doctors, journalists, lawyers, musicians, students—can benefit from a greater understanding of how to use computing.
Computer literacy is important for success in today’s digital economy, yet many American schools still view computer science education as an exotic elective. Only a handful of states allow computer science courses to count as math or science credits toward high school graduation requirements. AP Computer Science is taught in just 10% of our high schools, whereas the UK recently added computer science to its curriculum, teaching CS to all students from ages 5 to 17. China teaches all of its students one year of computer science. The CS 10K Initiative, supported by the National Science Foundation, is working to build curricula and course materials to support educators’ needs so they can more effectively teach computer science.
We also need to inspire young people to dig in and learn about computer science and other digital technologies—especially girls and minorities, who today are underrepresented in these fields—in order to train the next generation of technology innovators and programmers. By participating in this week’s “Hour of Code,” girls and boys across America can get a first-hand glimpse of the exciting possibilities computer science presents, such as being able to design and program original video games and apps, and can help students from all types of communities get inspired to build their future with their own two hands.
Take some time this week to introduce yourself to computer science. Many companies, schools, and non-profit organizations—including Khan Academy, Codecademy, MIT’s Scratch and AppInventor projects, and Code.org itself—are making free, hour-long coding tutorials available. We suspect you will find coding fun, creative, and intellectually challenging. With a little practice you too will be able to create your own games, websites, and applications.
Mark DeLoura is Senior Advisor to the Deputy Director for Digital Media at OSTP
Randy Paris is a Confidential Assistant at OSTP