IT Staffing: Computer Education's Failing Grade

The U.S. computer science report card is not looking good.

CIOs who haven’t thought about ways to help improve computer science education in U.S. high schools could soon be in for a rude awakening. A recent study by the Computer Science Teachers’ Association (CSTA) reveals a host of problems plaguing technology education at the K-12 level, which could lead to a critical shortage of IT professionals starting in 2012 and to limited career opportunities for today’s students.

Only a quarter of U.S. high schools have a computer science requirement, the CSTA reports. Computer science teachers lack time for training and struggle for resources. Female and minority students are underrepresented in these courses. And students struggle to add computer science to their packed schedules.

The National Science Foundation created the CSTA last fall to support teachers. For example, the CSTA examined other countries that have tackled computer education woes, then created a model curriculum and implementation advice.

CSTA also works with policymakers and teenagers, hoping to increase student interest and ensure smart spending of computer science education funds. The key with students, says CSTA executive director Chris Stephenson, is stressing the connection between their interests, like health care or the environment, and computer science classes offered in their schools.

CIOs can help by lobbying state and local policymakers and by speaking at schools about job opportunities, Stephenson says.

CIOs can also encourage their employers to invest in education initiatives. “There’s a real ROI to that,” Stephenson says. “We’re the start of the pipeline. If you don’t get engaged at this level, you’re not going to have the workers that you need to remain innovative.” (For more about how forward-thinking CIOs are approaching education, see How to Hook the Talent You Need.)

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