An ominous beep: Memories of Sputnik as US aims to advance computer science education

Oct 6, 2017   |   Suzanne Choney

Plotting of Sputnik I orbit on globe built by Robert H. Farquhar.

Sixty years ago this week, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the Earth. The historic moment meant not only that the space race with the United States was on, but so were U.S. efforts to provide stronger math and science education to its young people, writes Brad Smith, Microsoft president, and Carol Ann Browne, Microsoft director of executive communications, in a new post in the “Today in Technology” series on LinkedIn.

Today, “Computer science is to our time what physics was to the middle of the 20th century,” Smith and Browne write. “It is reshaping every part of society, and no nation can prosper without providing its students with an opportunity to learn to code. This has sparked a new movement to bring computer science to schools, led by non-profit groups and companies across the tech sector.”

Decades later, leaders on both sides of the political aisle have taken steps to support better math and science education in the U.S. “As in the year following Sputnik, the biggest recent advances are attributable to two individuals from differing parts of the political spectrum,” Smith and Browne write.

The first was former President Barack Obama, who proposed federal funding to bring computer science into the nation’s schools. The second is Ivanka Trump, who as advisor to the president, consulted with non-profit and tech leaders and formulated a $1 billion, five-year plan to provide federal funding to advance computer science and other science and math subjects in the nation’s public schools.

“It’s easy to look at the events of 2017 and yearn for a Sputnik moment that can unite the nation,” they note. “But even in the absence of such an opportunity, it’s heartening to see leaders from both political parties recognize that, as in 1957, technology is on the move. The future of our children requires that education move forward with it.”

Read the full post on LinkedIn.

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