Coding Is Power: Teaching Computer Programming in Public Schools

Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come – Victor Hugo.

When Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel called on President Obama a few weeks back publicly asking for computer programming to become a requirement for graduation in public schools (Engadget), he was not the first politician to insist on the nation learning to code. In fact, Obama himself said in December 2013 that American students shouldn’t “just play on [their] phone – program it” (Whitehouse.gov). However, Mayor Emanuel is perhaps the highest level figure to call to make programming a requirement, not just a vague idea to be supported. We here at Sun Sign Designs don’t support a full mandate, but we definitely believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn coding as a “second language,” the same way we teach foreign languages in schools. If our nation’s educational resources can be pointed in the right direction in this particular area, we can take advantage of both current and future economic opportunities to guarantee for students not only just a prosperous future, but also a realistic and practical one as well.

While Emanuel’s rhetoric may have been purposefully aggressive in order to stir conversation, there is no doubt that genuine efforts are already being made across the country to implement coding education in schools. From New York to Tennessee, administrators understand that the time is now to begin implementing coding classes. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams spoke frankly at a city announcement for the new educational program Code Brooklyn that the “future is written in zeroes and ones, and coding will help our young people write that future while adding several zeroes to the ends of their salaries” (King County Politics). However, already schools are finding logistical obstacles to such measures. One difficulty that Tennessee schools are finding is the need for qualified coding teachers, a difficult selling point for schools who can only pay teachers an average of $49,000/yr when the average computer programmer position in Tennessee pays in the $82-88,000/yr range (The Tennessean).

Since there are many things that could be improved in the public school system–teacher salaries, test performances, graduation rates—any national measure for a new coding curriculum has to also answer these struggles, not exacerbate them. A mandate or graduation requirement is not the solution, at least until coding has been well established in schools. Not every school across the country is currently equipped to handle the teaching of coding on a mass scale, and many high school students planning on graduating may not have the educational resources in their own lives to complete Emanuel’s requirement.

The support for coding education has to come from all levels, including federal, state, and county departments, along with the schools themselves. Measures should be passed to support teacher salaries (in a way that balances with other subjects being taught) and schools could begin teaching coding as early as middle or elementary school to make sure the fundamentals are there before it is required at higher levels. When the initiative for the teaching of coding is supported by all branches of government and school administrations, then the time will come where students will be empowered to capitalize on the future that has been promised to them.

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