US needs bigger crop of computer science whizzes
Regarding your Aug. 15 editorial "US Can't Lose Its Tech Edge": Too often, discussions of computing education focus on using technology to support other areas of the curriculum, and the importance of educating the next generation to be tool builders, and not mere tool users, is forgotten.
For the last year the Computer Science Teachers Association has been getting this message out to educators, legislators, administrators, media, and parents. And despite the support of industry leaders like Bill Gates, students believe that there are no jobs in computer science and school systems operate as though there is no need to provide opportunities for students to explore this discipline before they get to college.
While other countries are implementing national curricula for high school computer science, we are still trying to get administrators to recognize that a foundational understanding of computer science is as relevant to students today as are any of the sciences that are unquestionably part of their high school education.
Thank you for your efforts to dispel the assumptions that are pushing us further and further behind in this technological global economy.
Executive Director, Computer Science Teachers Association
As an engineer and father of two daughters with electrical engineering degrees, I'm interested in the high dropout rates (or low graduation rates) of engineering students. Most of the young people entering engineering schools are well qualified in science, math, and physics. Yet only a small percentage actually obtain their degrees, which reflects negatively on the quality of US engineering education.
Poor teachers (often with a poor command of the English language); uninteresting and irrelevant curriculum; and outdated laboratory equipment contribute to the problem. (For example, one of my engineering daughters spent a semester at a German university where they had the latest and best equipment but her own university had old outdated equipment, often donated by companies for tax purposes.)
I agree with the Monitor that we indeed need to graduate more electrical engineers. However, the problem is deep, festering, and not likely to be solved without leadership at the national level.
My son entered college in 2000 as a computer science major and graduated in 2004. During that time one of the biggest economic news stories was the outsourcing of software developers and software support staff overseas. Though my son did eventually find a job as a programmer, I can tell you there were dramatically fewer entry-level jobs in 2004 as compared to 2000.
College students have simply been responding to the perceived opportunities that will await them when they graduate. As prospects for jobs improve, I have no doubt that the number of computer science majors will again rise.
Just because Bill Gates says software jobs are exciting doesn't make them so. There's a labor market, even in the high-tech sector, and if younger Americans aren't willing to take software jobs at current salaries, it's because those salaries aren't attractive enough. The only role for government in solving this "problem" is to reduce the number of H1-B visas for foreign-born high-tech workers. This will drive up salaries and plenty of younger Americans will seek those "rewarding" software jobs.
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