Making important progress on computer science education

This week, we have seen tremendous enthusiasm and excitement from more than 13 million students who are learning a new language. The language? Computer Science.

Across the country and around the world, students have been celebrating Computer Science Education Week by participating in Hour of Code events. In partnership with Code.org, Microsoft has been hosting Hour of Code programs at our retail stores and with our YouthSpark partners, witnessing the delight of students who are experiencing coding for the first time. This week, I had the opportunity to see this excitement firsthand when I met with students and teachers at Fairwood Elementary School in Renton, Wash. to present $10,000 in Code.org funding for tablets that will help students strengthen their computer science skills.

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We are encouraged by the passion we have seen this week for computer science. As a society, we must not let this spark fade. We owe it to our students to do more to create the capacity to meet their enthusiasm and enable today’s youth to pursue their dreams. Not only will this help create more opportunity for young people, it will help strengthen our economy and boost innovation in the process.

Fortunately, during Computer Science Education Week, federal, state and local leaders are also making positive and important strides to train and inspire the innovators of tomorrow. President Obama released a video urging all young people in America to take part in the Hour of Code and to consider computer science as an important part of their education. And this week alone, leaders in Alabama and Wisconsin have taken key steps to strengthen computer science education – and the future of our students – by allowing computer science courses to count toward high school graduation requirements.

In addition, numerous states and cities have passed proclamations or have publicly noted the importance of Computer Science Education Week, including: Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, as well as the cities of Los Angeles; San Diego; San Jose, Calif.; Washington, D.C. and Santa Clara and San Diego counties, also in California.

This momentum could not come at a more critical time. Across sectors and throughout the country, U.S. companies are not able to fill thousands of jobs due to a lack of high-skilled candidates. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be more than a million computer science jobs created through 2020 that require a bachelor’s degree or higher in computer science, yet our nation’s universities are only graduating approximately 40,000 bachelor’s degrees a year in this critical field.

As a nation, we are not preparing enough of our students with the training and skills they need to succeed in our 21st century global economy. At the high school level, of our country’s 42,000 high schools, fewer than 3,250 are even certified to teach Advanced Placement Computer Science courses.

Microsoft and our partners have helped to support these efforts at the state level, because we believe every child should have the opportunity to take computer science courses. We also know that both the private and public sectors must play a key role in addressing this critical challenge. Following the release of our National Talent Strategy, we have continued to work closely with elected officials and community leaders at the national and local levels in support of increased computer science and STEM education and training.

During Computer Science Education Week and beyond, Microsoft is partnering with nonprofits to help provide opportunity and STEM focused skills to young people through our YouthSpark initiative. And at 70 U.S. schools in 12 states, our Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program is bringing computer science courses to more than 3,500 students, which are co-taught by local teachers and high-tech professionals.

If we want to sustain the passion and enthusiasm we’ve seen from students of all ages this week as they’ve learned to code, we need to keep the momentum alive by improving access to computer science education. By taking this important step, we can ensure these newly-inspired kids have the opportunity to learn the language of our future.

We urge students of all ages to take an important first step and join us this week for an Hour of Code.

About the Author

General Counsel & Executive Vice President, Legal and Corporate Affairs, Microsoft

Brad Smith is Microsoft's General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Legal and Corporate Affairs. He leads the company's Department of Legal and Corporate Affairs (LCA), which has approximately 1,100 employees located in 55 countries. Mr. Smith is responsible for the company's legal work, its intellectual property portfolio and patent licensing business as well as its government affairs and philanthropic work. He also serves as Microsoft's corporate secretary and its chief compliance officer. Mr. Smith currently co-chairs the board of directors of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and is the chair-elect of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity. In Washington state, Mr. Smith has served as chair of the Washington Roundtable, a leading Washington state-based business organization, and he has advanced several statewide education initiatives.