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Creating the Expertise We Need

By Pat Phillips

By now you have likely received the January issue of the CSTA Voice and discovered the exciting NSF plans for growing 10,000 new CS teachers and reaching 10,000 schools with a re-vamped AP CS curriculum. Of course, this is all in response to what we have sensed and fretted about for quite some time; something needs to happen to turn today's pipeline from a dribble to the gush needed to create the technical expertise required to solve a growing list of world problems.

Those involved in STEM/CS education have been shouting about the problem for several years and now others are also taking note and action. The December 18, 2009 issue of the Kiplinger Letter focused on education - much of it related to STEM. A few items in particular struck my interest and I thought they might interest you as well especially as we all begin the work of overhauling CS education.
* 60% of businesses say it is difficult to find qualified workers even in this recession. Especially sought after were highly skilled laborers such as laser die cutters, engineers of all stripes, scientists, and skilled information tech workers from systems analysts to programmers.
* Baby boomers (40% of the workforce) are retiring; those born between 1946 and 1964 have more education (58% with at least some college training) than the generation before them AND the generation after them (55%).
* Newly created jobs are more likely to require higher education than in the past. Currently 31% of all jobs require postsecondary education. This percentage will creep ever higher representing millions of new jobs that will require more than high school.
* Students majoring in science, technology, engineering, and math fall short of employers' needs. From 2004-2014 employment in these areas will grow at nearly double the rate for all occupations. The demand for biomedical engineers will grow by over 70%; network systems and data communications analysts will grow by 53%.
* Interest in STEM/CS fields is growing but not fast enough and most of the growth is from non-US students earning degrees in US universities. As the economies of India, China, South Korea, and other developing nations expand highly-educated graduates are less likely to stay in the US. That combined with stricter immigration policies will leave many companies short-handed and unable to compete (unless US students fill the gap).
* While progress has been made, the performance gap between white students and Hispanic & black students in reading and math test scores, remains large. By 2018 Hispanics will be 18% of the work force, 23% by 2030. Unless these gaps are closed, demographics will further weaken the competitive edge.

You will be happy to know that CSTA and the NSF CS/K12 Project are working to combat (for CS education, at least) some of the US education weaknesses identified by various critics. Through the work of these groups, the future of CS education will be rich in:
* Highly trained teachers
* National recommended standards
* Demanding classes and curriculum
* Focus on critical thinking skills
There has been no better time to encourage our students to pursue the wonder and power of CS!

Pat Philips
Editor, CSTA Voice

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