Today, President Barack Obama called for a new national effort to give all American students the opportunity to learn computer science in school – in short, Computer Science for All. As a company, we at Microsoft support the president’s call to action, and we hope that leaders in both parties will use 2016 to find common ground and make this opportunity a reality for the nation’s students.
As a company, we’ve made access to computer science education a top business, public policy and philanthropic priority. Our employees founded Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, or TEALS, an effort that now enlists tech employees to teach computer science in 170 schools and 18 states. It has provided us with a first-hand view of both the challenges and the benefits of expanding computer science education. Over the past three years we’ve used our voice, along with many others, to encourage 17 states to change their laws to recognize computer science as a course that now counts towards high school distribution requirements.
In addition, we were a founding member of Code.org, which has reached over 65 million American students through its Hour of Code and trained more than 1,400 middle and high school teachers. And we recently announced an additional $75 million commitment through Microsoft YouthSpark to increase access to computer science.
All this has provided us with an opportunity to learn firsthand.
Perhaps more than anything else, what we’ve learned is this: Computer science has become foundational for the future across the American economy. This isn’t just a tech issue. This isn’t just an education issue. Computer science education is now an economic and social imperative for the next generation of American students.
First, the U.S. economy is creating at a remarkable pace jobs that require an understanding of computer science. Increasingly these jobs are in every part of the economy. It’s been estimated that the economy will add half-a-million new jobs over the next decade that will require even more of these skills, in sectors ranging from agriculture to manufacturing to the more traditional forms of information technology.
But the country has a problem. The skills gap is leaving too many of these jobs unfilled. Each year we see the number of unfilled jobs growing. Some now estimate there could be as many as a million unfilled IT skilled jobs in the country by the end of this decade.
There’s a second problem. Other countries are moving ahead of the United States in creating opportunities for their students to learn coding and computing science. As a tech company that works in over 190 countries worldwide, we’re witnessing this every day. We’re seeing countries as large as China and the United Kingdom and as small as Estonia embrace this cause and take the kinds of steps needed to make computer science widespread and available for their students.
While there’s growing momentum in many American states and cities, the United States is not yet moving at the pace needed. If there’s one data point that makes this clear, it’s this: There are 37,000 high schools in the United States, but last year only 4,310 high schools offered the advanced placement course in computer science. So we haven’t yet reached even 12 percent of the nation’s high schools in making this type of course available to young Americans.
As challenging as this is in general, the implications are even more significant for the future of the diversity of our country. Right now, we’re leaving too many parts of America behind. Only 22 percent of the students who took the AP course in computer science last year were female. Only 13 percent were students of color. We’re finding that in rural communities and in poor urban areas where computer science can offer so much for people’s future, too many schools are not yet making these classes available.
But we’re also seeing that when these classes are offered, they’re having a huge and positive impact. Girls who take the AP computer science course in high school are ten times more likely to major in computer science in college. And African-American and Latino students who take this course in high school are over seven times more likely to major in this field. That’s what it means to offer this to students at a younger age.
What’s fascinating is this: It’s now clear that the parents of this country understand this. A Gallup poll found that 91 percent of American parents want their children to learn more computer science.
What we have now is the opportunity to create the kind of movement that will make that goal a reality.
We clearly need the tech sector to continue to do more. Microsoft is one of many companies in the tech sector that is committed to this effort. In addition to our business initiatives, those of us who are involved in philanthropy, including such groups as Code.org, will do more.
But the private sector and philanthropy cannot fill this gap without public funding. And if we’re going to accelerate progress as a nation, we need federal funding. That’s why today’s proposal is so important. It can provide the accelerant to help more states and school districts progress more quickly.
Not since 1958, when President Dwight Eisenhower responded to the Sputnik launch by calling for federal support for math and science, has the country had the type of opportunity that exists today to create an economic and educational foundation for the next generation of American students.
In 1958, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress passed the National Defense and Education Act, providing the first federal funding to help states strengthen math and science education across the country. Their leadership created the educational foundation that sent the country to the moon by the end of the next decade. Even more important, it created the skills base that helped propel the country towards three decades of new technology and job growth.
The opportunity in 2016 is no smaller than it was in 1958. But it requires a comparable effort to provide students across the country with the opportunity to learn the skills of the future.
This is what those of us who have been working in the tech sector have understood so clearly the last few years. It’s why we hope the country will make 2016 a year to seize the moment and make this vision real.