The State of IT Education1 | 2 |
This group of students came to be known as the “Internet Scouts.”
“Most of those kids went on to become professionals in this field because they were exposed to it, they had access to it, they became competent at it,” she said. “[And] they liked it.”
In the United States, however, information technology is not as glorified a career as, say, professional basketball, so students are more likely to dream about being the next Michael Jordan than the next Steve Jobs. Fadel believes this societal perception has a significant impact on the number of people going into IT-related jobs.
“There’s the scorn of the geek, which is society-dependent,” he said. “Obviously, you’re not going to have a technologically advanced society if you have all of [these] factors play against you.”
Additionally, many students and parents might assume that IT is a dead-end, given the dot-com bust and, more recently, news of offshoring. It’s these misperceptions that affect the number of students entering these fields, said Chris Stephenson, executive director of the Association for Computing Machinery’s Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA).
“We still hear from a lot of students and their parents that they really believe the myth that there are no jobs in computer science,” Stephenson said. “In the meantime, we hear from companies that [they] are absolutely desperate for people to fill jobs they already have. The truth of the matter is, one of the primary reasons many companies are offshoring is because they simply cannot find the people they need here — and that goes back to our pipeline issue.”
While the U.S. is not the only country that’s experiencing a shortage of IT professionals, it’s hard to compare the U.S. with other countries because it’s not homogenous. There are some U.S. school districts that are incredible in their use of technology, and there are others that are not.
“In countries like Singapore, it’s much easier,” Fadel said. “Singapore has a very large city and that’s about it. So there are things that you can do [there] that you cannot do in a very large country with a highly decentralized system. That said, Singapore is ahead of most of our districts, but [it is] not necessarily better than our most advanced ones.”
Computer Science in Schools
There’s a difference between having access to technology in schools and learning about it.
“We have to make a really important distinction between using technology as a tool to learn in other disciplines and actually learning computer science itself,” Stephenson said. “What often happens is these two become very much confused in the view of administrators and the public. What we see is a misconception that as long as there are computers in the schools, students are learning skills that are appropriate to meet the future needs of the high-tech industry. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case.”
Computer science courses are one way high school students can get interested in and learn about technology and the industry, but many computer science programs are in poor shape.
“We’re not getting enough students into the computer science pipeline early on because there aren’t teachers who can teach it, or there aren’t courses that students can take,” Stephenson said. “As a result, there are not enough students going into computer science or informatics [in] college or university. The end result is we’re simply not graduating enough people to keep up with the needs of industry.”
The problem lies in the certification process for computer science teachers. The systems for certification that are in place are completely out of touch with the needs of students and the discipline itself, Stephenson said.
“In the vast majority of cases, the current state certification requirements for CS teachers are either incomplete or completely irrelevant,” she said. “You have situations where teachers who teach computer science cannot be certified as computer science teachers.”
As a result, students are not getting the best computer science education. Stephenson has heard of instances in which schools ask teachers from other disciplines to teach the computer science course, even though the two subjects may have little or nothing in common.
“They spend the whole year just keeping one step ahead of their students, trying to learn faster than [them] so they can teach it,” she explained. “When you’re talking about a discipline like computer science where the technology is changing constantly, it’s really hard for teachers without a background to teach it appropriately.”
Additionally, because computer science is not a core subject outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act, former President George W. Bush’s education initiative, students are not required to take it.
According to CSTA’s National Secondary Computer Science Survey, 78 percent of the 14,000 people surveyed said their school offered introductory computer science courses in 2005. In 2007, 73 percent of the 13,000 people surveyed said their school offered introductory computer science courses. Similarly, in 2005, 40 percent of respondents said their school offered Advanced Placement (AP) computer science classes. In 2007, only 32 percent said their school offered AP computer science classes.
“With No Child Left Behind, schools are only concentrating on core courses, so they’re offering fewer and fewer electives,” Stephenson said. “As long as computer science is considered an elective rather than a core course, it’s going to be harder and harder for schools to offer it. Computer science is kind of like the canary in the coal mine: When things get tough, it’s the first to disappear.”
Yet, if high schools and colleges don’t produce enough people interested in these fields, there won’t be enough people to meet the demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of computer software engineers is projected to increase by 38 percent from 2006 to 2016; employment of computer scientists and database administrators is expected to grow 37 percent; employment of computer systems analysts is expected to grow by 29 percent; and employment of computer support specialists and systems administrators is expected to increase by 18 percent.
And this IT shortage may affect the United States’ competitiveness, as the Googles and Microsofts of the world will relocate or sprout up elsewhere.
“If the situation continues as it is, we will continue to see the industry [struggle] to find the people they need to fill the jobs they have,” Stephenson said. “We will see North America diminish in terms of its competitiveness in all of the fields that technology [and] computing touches. [And] countries that are making an effort to get more people into and through the pipeline are going to gain the edge.”
– Lindsay Edmonds Wickman, firstname.lastname@example.org | 2 |