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Next-Gen IT Workforce: Computers Classes Seen As 'Shop Class' At Many Schools

Schools struggle with where to offer tech electives

If a kid takes a computer networking class as an elective, will college admissions departments look at it in the same spirit as an advanced physics class--or more akin to wood shop?

That's some of the dynamic that computer courses face in getting established in high schools. About a quarter of high schools require a computer course, according to a recent study by the Computer Science Teachers Association. But that includes courses that teach basic user skills such as typing and point-and-click, says Chris Stephenson, CSTA's president. Far fewer approach the science level of how software works or even higher-end user skills such as how to use multiple tools and choose the right one for different information tasks, she says.

There are many reasons why there is inconsistency and a lack of computer science requirements in kindergarten through 12th grade. Schools face budget pressures, and regulations related to standardized testing and the federal No Child Left Behind program sometimes restrict schools' flexibility in curriculum offerings. That has many districts cutting back electives.

Also, parents are focused on grade points and pleasing college admissions officials, says Gene Longo, who as senior manager of Cisco Networking Academy Program Field Operations, works with districts across the United States and Canada to make sure Cisco's education programs meet various states' objectives for math, science, or language arts. One frequent issue: Cisco's networking courses often are taught through the vocational program, leading some parents to steer Junior clear lest a "voc" class scuttle their Harvard dreams. In some school districts, tech courses are part of the honors or advanced placement curriculum, helping make them more likely to be picked as an elective by a top student.

Many schools don't consider computer skills a core science that lower-grade students need. Schools also fight perceptions from parents that technology changes so fast that skills taught to kids today will be obsolete by the time they're in college and ready to enter the workforce, and that kids today have so much technology in their lives, they don't need it in school. What we need instead is an understanding that computer science is a building block for almost any field of scientific study--from engineering or medicine to the core sciences--as well as business. "Just because you're not going to be a physicist," CSTA's Stephenson says, "shouldn't mean I shouldn't teach you physics."

Return to main story, In Depth: How Businesses Can Attract The Next-Generation Of IT Workers

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