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Many Issues Have No Borders

At the recent CSTA board meeting, a recent paper on the status of computing in several countries (including the USA) was pointed out to me. The paper has Simon Peyton-Jones, a well-known computer scientist now at Microsoft in the United Kingdom, and a number of others (including the CSTA's Chris Stephenson) as co-authors.

I have been following for some time now the commentary coming from the UK about the situation there. It is cold comfort to know that many of the problems we face here in the US are the same as those faced elsewhere in the world, but the corroboration that our analysis of the situation is the same as others' analysis does at least suggest that if we are trying to correct the problems we perceive then we are in fact trying to to correct problems that do exist.

What I have seen from the UK sounds familiar. There is discontent from industry about the knowledge and skills that students have and the numbers of students who really know computer science. Students at schools perceive that there is no real content to what they believe to be computer science, bolstered by an institutional bias toward use of technology (which in the UK goes by the name of Information and Communication Technology or ICT). The problems we face in the US with computer science being part of career and technical education and not viewed as a core academic subject are replicated in the UK, with similar results.

Among the issues that seem to be common across several national borders are these:

  • We must ensure that computer science is treated as its own subject discipline, distinct from the mere use of computers.
  • We must emphasize that an education in computer science is not just the skills training that ensures substantial benefits in the job market, but a genuine education in how to analyze and solve problems and how to think clearly and critically on any topic of interest.
  • We must work to increase the number and quality of computer science teachers, and, in part through CSTA, work to make them more successful in a difficult educational situation with a rapidly changing discipline.
  • As I say, it is cold comfort to have the problems of marketing the discipline that we seem to have. Nonetheless, the fact that our problems are common problems should help us more quickly and clearly focus on remedies that can be effected.

    Duncan Buell
    CSTA Board of Directors

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