Obama Pledges $4 Billion in Funding for Computer Science Education in Schools

Davey Alba, reporting for Wired:

Under the president’s plan, the Department of Education will divide the $4 billion over three years to states that propose well-designed five-year plans to increase computer science access in classrooms. Along with billions in federal funding, the initiative also includes commitments from philanthropists and some of the country’s largest tech companies to help increase opportunities for computer science training, especially for underrepresented groups.

The medium is the message, and almost all of today’s messages are delivered through the medium of computational devices. The next decade is only going to see the network of devices grow, as our homes become collections of connected kitchen scales, light bulbs, and door locks. Providing children with an early entry point to interacting and building for these devices will open up an incredible opportunity for exploration and be creativity.

If you’re unconvinced, just go look at what kids are creating in Minecraft these days. [1]

Brief aside regarding Minecraft — You probably already know that Minecraft was acquired by Microsoft back in 2014 for $2.5 billion. However, what you may not have heard is Microsoft, with a goal of helping teachers use Minecraft in the classroom, has since gone and acquired MinecraftEdu, a third-party Minecraft version for classroom use. Microsoft plans on rebranding the tools provided by MinecraftEdu as Minecraft Education Edition, along with providing ways for teachers to get mentored on introducing their school and classes to Minecraft. All this to say: the invasion of computer science topics into early education has already started, and the trojan horse is Minecraft. — End brief aside

Mr. Obama’s announcement isn’t the first to introduce a major computer science education initiative; the past couple of years have seen momentum build on this front. Late last year, the New York Times reported on a similar declaration from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, where he outlined a goal of “within 10 years all of the city’s public schools will be required to offer computer science to all students.” Kate Taylor and Claire Cain Miller reporting:

Meeting that goal will present major challenges, mostly in training enough teachers. There is no state teacher certification in computer science, and no pipeline of computer science teachers coming out of college. Fewer than 10 percent of city schools currently offer any form of computer science education, and only 1 percent of students receive it, according to estimates by the city’s Department of Education.

Had there been some clear path from graduation to the classroom for computer science majors, I would have pursued whatever extra credits were needed for the required certification.

[1] And most of these kids are playing Minecraft on some sort of touchscreen, which I personally find unwieldy. However, over the holidays, I had the chance to watch some of younger cousins play Minecraft on their iPods touch [2], and they had no problem navigating the game world. Furthermore, when I showed them my mouse and keyboard setup, they laughed.

[2] “iPod touches” just sounds weird, and although I agree that the usage of “Macbook Pros” and “iPod Shuffles” would suggest “iPod Touches” is perfectly acceptable, I’m going to say to hell with it and just borrow from the far cooler sounding style that gets used when talking about more than one Attorney General: Attorneys General.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

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