TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas leaders in business, education and politics are considering ways to update the state’s school curriculums to teach students computer science skills that will prepare them for how technology is changing the world.
Making the changes would require overcoming several obstacles, including how to add more computer science courses without reducing time for traditional science subjects, and attracting and keeping computer experts who generally make much higher salaries in the private sector, Kansas News Service reports .
Rep. Steve Huebert, an engineer who leads the Kansas House Education Committee, said he learned traditional science classes such as chemistry and physics in school but he had to learn computer skills that are critical to his job after he was hired.
“We’re no longer at a time where we can just continue what we’re doing,” Huebert said.
Meanwhile, business leaders say computer science is vital for students and economies in a world where even the smallest of startups need websites, apps, databases and analytics.
“Think about the needs that that creates for large employers, small employers,” says Anna Hennes, a program manager for medical record software giant Cerner, “and everybody’s ability to continue to grow and thrive.”
About a third of U.S. states require their schools to offer computer science and some require computer science education for all students in high school or even younger students.
Currently in Kansas, high school computer science is an elective. Most districts don’t have the right curriculum, technology and software to adequately teach the subject – and the schools already struggle to find and keep science and math teachers.
Huebert and others suggest allowing students who are interested in computer science to swap a traditional science class that is required for graduation for a chance to learn skills such as programming.
“If we can do that,” he said, “it’ll be a win-win for everyone going forward.”
Any change will upset someone, said professor Perla Weaver, a former high school teacher who leads the computer science department at Johnson County Community College.
“There’s things that we have for decades – if not centuries – assumed are part of basic education,” said Weaver.
Computer science skills might be more helpful to some students than learning about DNA, she said, but “boy, don’t say that in front of science teachers. . It’s an insult.”
In April, the Kansas State Board of Education adopted mostly voluntary standards for incorporating computer and internet concepts into student learning at all ages. Educators say the guidelines are important because they allow schools to create a specialized license for computer science teachers, preparing students at the state’s colleges of education, and training teachers already working in schools.