#CSForAll: Ensuring tech access for all students

On the heels of the White House Computer Science For All initiative (#CSForAll) announcement and the celebration of National Engineers Week, we are excited about the work being done to make STEM opportunities accessible for all kids.

The #CSForAll initiative is a plan to ensure that every student in America has access to a robust and rigorous computer science education. The initiative includes a proposed $4.2 billion targeted toward teacher training, curriculum development and the strengthening of public-private partnerships.

We applaud the White House’s commitment to ensuring that all students have access to high-quality computer science instruction so they can pursue computing-related studies and careers. It was surreal to watch President Obama dedicate the entirety of a weekly address to a topic we hold near and dear. A new day for computer science education has dawned; it is times like this that beg for both reflection and visioning.

We’re at a turning point in the history of education, not only for students, but also for their teachers. Computer science education offers an unprecedented opportunity to impact the lives of students, equipping them with skills that lead to internships, college scholarships and a pathway toward fulfilling careers.

Unfortunately, too many students — especially those from low-income areas — don’t have access to computer science courses in their schools. That’s a problem — not just for them, but for their communities and our nation.

Currently, just one in four schools nationwide offers computer science classes. With 98 percent of all undergraduate computer science majors reporting exposure to the field prior to college, this disparity of early computer science experiences cuts promising students off from the many benefits the field has to offer.

More kids need this experience. Low-income students and students of color in the United States do not receive the high-quality, rigorous computer science instruction needed for success in college and beyond. It’s important that we help expand access to computer science education for a diverse set of students, especially in our increasingly technological and interconnected world.

Computer science provides opportunities for project-based learning, collaboration and authentic, hands-on experiences.

Teachers can fix this. But, unfortunately, there aren’t enough computer science teachers. A recent Google/Gallup study revealed that school administrators view a lack of trained computer science teachers as a top barrier to offering computer science courses. It is important for more individuals with a background, or strong interest, in science and tech to consider teaching, and for schools to find innovative ways to incorporate computer science into their curricula.

For us, teaching computer science was the most powerful way to combat educational inequity. Just six years ago, Cullen was a social studies teacher with a passion for tech. He entered the world of computer science education — without prior programming experience — because computer science teachers weren’t available for his students. His district gave him the opportunity to learn computer science concepts and earn certification. Because of this support, he had the privilege of introducing his students to a world of innovation and advancement through computer science.

And for Claire, the lack of computer science courses at a Title I high school situated mere miles away from the world’s premier tech hub was shameful. The opportunity gap for her students — most of whom loved STEM — was obvious.

Excuses as to why they could not offer a computer science class at a high school like hers were plentiful: We’ll never find a teacher who knows computer science and wants to work here; computer science is hard; the students don’t have computers available to do their homework; and, most misguidedly, we will never get students to sign-up.

Emboldened by the doubters, Claire partnered with her school to make it happen. The first class defied all expectations; people generously donated old computers that students took home, and her class of 22 students, primarily young women, thought the class was hard, but ultimately excelled.

The momentum created could not be contained by the four walls of Claire’s classroom. She searched for ways to increase student opportunity and ultimately landed a role leading computer science initiatives within the Oakland Unified School District. In this role, she now leads the charge of bringing the critical thinking, problem solving, agency and joy exemplified by the students in her own classroom to 50,000 young people in Oakland.

President Obama’s commitment to computer science education is a justification of the work we spearhead to impact students at scale. We believe this focus on the PK-12 computer science continuum has the potential to reimagine teaching and learning.

Computer science provides opportunities for project-based learning, collaboration and authentic, hands-on experiences. It has already forced educators like us to re-envision a teacher’s role in the classroom — from allowing students to drive their learning to helping students find their passion in this field.

The time is now. And together, we can ensure that all of today’s students have the access and knowledge to become the innovators and pioneers of the future.