Friday, April 4, 2014

Not Even in Silicon Valley!

Entrepreneurs Hard at Work

Recently, several friends of mine who run startups in the San Francisco Bay Area and I have been talking about school age kids and computer science education opportunities. My friends are not only dedicated entrepreneurs but dedicated parents of elementary age children and they are highly motivated to see to it that their kids obtain quality exposure to computer science early.

You'd think that in Silicon Valley of all places, there would be no end to the list of CS activities to choose from. Piece of cake? Apparently not. When my friends first told me there was something missing from computer science offerings I was surprised and very curious. I'm hanging out in SV this week and so I started doing some investigation.

Not surprisingly, there is a relative lack of computer science teachers in the public schools here. This is a nationwide problem and here, where rents and mortgages are as sky high as the private sector tech salaries, it's hardly surprising that modestly paid computer science teachers are few and far between.

There are lots of startups in the K-12 coding space - I've written about them here a few times. For the average parent however, working in hi-tech or not, these startups have no impact on their own kids. As one of my friends told me, they can't afford to wait 5 - 10 years to see what pans out because by then their kids will have graduated from high school.

There are science camps; math camps; weekend programs, and clubs. Oodles of them. Some of these have some computing in them. Some, a few, involve some coding. What my friends told me is missing  is something that is broader, deeper and that lasts longer than a day, or even a week. Something with continuity. My next thought was, what about the various national competitions? There are decathlons in math and science, there are several programs with the approach taken by Odyssey of the Mind (OM). What about them? I started reading about these and other programs.

No computer science. Not even close. No computer science in the national science decathlons; no computer science in the math decathlons; no computer science in OM and related programs. They cover just about everything else: many fields of science, wide and creative applications of math, the performing and visual arts, history, literature, engineering, design. 'Technology' usually translates into anything but computer science. Engineering translates into ... engineering.

Parents have a right to be unhappy. You don't have  to be a hi-tech parent to be unhappy. Hi-tech parents are at least aware of the lack of computer science opportunities both in and out of the formal curriculum. How many parents who are not in hi-tech careers are even aware of what is missing? The more I read, the more I dug, the more sure I became that I wasn't going to find computer science embedded in any of these otherwise academically diverse competitions for kids.

What's with that?

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