The Engadget Expand conference was packed with a number of influential, moving and intriguing speakers. But one of the most poignant and insightful panels was the Rethinking Education panel, highlighting the need for today's US students to learn coding in schools. The main subject of the panel was that only 1 in 10 students in American schools is taught to code. The panel members, Rodrigo Arboleda of the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) organization, Pat Yongpradit of Code.org, and Jeff Branson from SparkFun, examined the sorry state of technology education in US schools. This trend is especially disturbing considering the state of US and world affairs. The US is among the world's leading technology consumer economies. We buy more technology than any nation, yet only a minute fraction the country knows how it works.
To support this, a recent study shows Americans are dumber than ever before. The study, called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, found that both American students, AND adults are far below the rest of the world in math, reading, and problem-solving USING technology. "All skills considered critical for global competitiveness and economic strength." This blew my mind. I get literally angry when I am able to stump a cashier at the store with counting back change by GIVING them change. They can't do it. But this new study shows Americans are challenged even in the area of problem-solving, even when allowed to use tech to help.
Steve Dent at Engadget put it quite well "One of the strongest challenges is that computer sciences get a bad rap, associated as they are with a rigid male culture of uncreative learning. Prodded further by moderator Dana Wollman, Branson said that we could start by creating new systems and interfaces that eliminate gender bias, citing first-person shooter-type games as a prime offender. As far as being a rote discipline, Yongpradit argued that coding actually teaches creativity, problem-solving and a host of other life skills. By way of debunking the myth that programming is only for nerds, he showed a picture of his latest
class -- which featured as many jocks as geeks and more female than male students. As for geek culture now being cool, Branson added that SparkFun has to try less hard to attract students now, thanks to a new cachet for coding, robotics and the like."
The entire discussion is really worth a watch, and some thought. We cannot afford to fall even further behind, especially in a world that is becoming increasingly digital. Today's personal technology innovation race is as important if not more so than the Space Race of the 60's.
View the Panel discussion HERE.