Many groups representing schools, colleges, companies and government are discussing the need for IT skills, what is taught and how it is taught. The NEW IT Alliance is engaging with these entities as they debate many questions.
At the college level, computer science and information systems have been taught for decades and their curricula have become relatively stable, although new topics — such as cybersecurity, data analytics and AI — must be incorporated constantly. At the K-12 level, however, the idea of including digital and computer science skills as part of the regular curriculum is newer, which makes that debate more intense.
In Northeast Wisconsin, the NEW IT Alliance and Microsoft’s TechSpark have partnered to launch the NEW CS Advisory Board focused on helping school districts find solutions to the challenges involved in holistically incorporating IT and computer science skills throughout the curriculum.
While we are just getting started, we have already made some good strides, with formal CS/IT advisory boards formed in a few school districts, including Hortonville, Sheboygan and Kimberly.
School districts are considering important and difficult issues around computer science and digital skills education in their schools, such as:
• Should every child learn how to code?
• Is computer science the new liberal arts?
• What counts as computer science education?
• Who is qualified to teach computer science?
• How do we find qualified instructors?
• How early should computer science be taught?
• Will skills taught in middle and high school translate into college requirements?
Through the NEW CS Advisory Board, companies and higher education institutions are helping districts discuss and find answers to these issues. For example, it is looking at how to create new degree programs focused on upskilling and qualifying teachers to teach these new subjects.
Solving these issues will take all of us working together. If you would like to help, contact your local school district to help it start or grow its local CS Advisory Board. We also welcome help in the regional NEW CS Advisory Board. You can find information about our next meetings and how to register on the NEW IT Alliance website. School districts interested in creating a CS advisory board can contact the NEW IT Alliance to discuss how to move forward.
Several other organizations also have stepped in to help support increasing digital literacy and computer science education in our schools. Women in Technology offers WIT4Girls clubs for middle school girls to learn about IT careers, and Girls Who Code starts in third grade and helps girls work on coding skills. Microsoft TEALS is focused on bringing computer science education into the classroom by pairing a volunteer IT professional with a high school teacher to offer a programming class.
Our hope is that by enacting these changes, not only will employers have the IT talent they seek, but our youth will graduate from high school and college ready to enter an increasingly digital workforce, regardless of their chosen field.
Kim Iversen, Director, NEW IT Alliance
In the few short months the Insight team has worked on Insight on Technology, I have learned a lot about IT. Two pieces of knowledge, however, stand out: the high demand for qualified IT workers and the lack of computer science and tech skills being taught to K-12 students. Sure, students learn the basics of how to work a computer, but many don’t learn about coding or more advanced computer skills.
Computer science education programs vary dramatically among high schools. In Wisconsin, only 17 percent of high schools offer the AP computer science course. There are several reasons for that low figure, including the lack of qualified instructors to teach the course. And let’s be honest about another reason: There are not many students interested in taking computer science courses. My two high school students brought home their class selection materials for next year and I asked both of them if they were interested in taking one of the school’s IT courses. They both looked at me blankly, adding they don’t plan to work in IT. I pointed out whatever career they end up in, tech skills will be needed. That caught their attention.
I don’t know if I convinced them — they have a few more weeks to finalize their schedule — but it shows parents, along with schools, need to do more to get students interested in computer science courses. Whether a student is heading to a four-year university, tech school or right into the job market, improved computer skills will help set them apart.
MaryBeth Matzek, Managing Editor