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Obama Wants More Girls, Kids of Color to Learn Computer Science

President Obama wants more girls and students of color to learn computer science skills.

President Obama wants more girls and students of color to learn computer science skills.

Citing a Benjamin Franklin quote asserting that “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest,” President Barack Obama on Saturday launched an initiative to get more children—especially girls and minorities—to learn computer science.

Called Computer Science for All, the president’s plan was unveiled during his weekly radio address. It builds upon his State of the Union commitment to push for quality computer science and math education for ever student in America.

“In the coming years, we should… [offer] every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one,” Obama said in his final address to Congress earlier this month.

The White House asserted that “our economy is rapidly shifting, and both educators and business leaders are increasingly recognizing that computer science is a ‘new basic’ skill necessary for economic opportunity and social mobility.”

To that end, Obama’s initiative calls for $4 billion in funding for states and $100 million directly for school districts to expand computer science training for teachers in grades K-12 and to provide greater access to high-quality instructional materials. The president is also calling for $135 million in computer science funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Corporation for National And Community Service (CNCS), more involvement from governors, mayors, and education leaders to help boost computer science education and greater commitment from CEOs, philanthropists and others to supporting computer education across the nation.

The president said his plan will “help make sure all our kids get an opportunity to learn computer science, especially girls and minorities.”

The White House stressed the need for improved computer science education in order to keep Americans competitive in an ever-changing employment landscape.

“In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill—it’s a basic skill, right along with the three ‘Rs,'” Obama said in his radio address. “Nine out of 10 parents want it taught at their children’s schools. Yet right now, only about a quarter of our K-12 schools offer computer science. Twenty-two states don’t even allow it to count toward a diploma.”

“Last year, there were more than 600,000 high-paying tech jobs across the United States that were unfilled, and by 2018, 51 percent of all STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs are projected to be in computer science-related fields,” wrote US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, formerly of Google. “Computer science and data science are not only important for the tech sector, but for so many industries, including transportation, healthcare, education, and financial services.”

“We have to make sure that all of our children are equipped to be innovators and entrepreneurs,” Smith added.

Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith also noted the importance of computer science education.

“Computing and computer science have become foundational for the future, virtually across the American economy,” Smith told reporters following Obama’s address. “Computer science education is now an economic and social imperative for the next generation of American students.”

NPR reports the nation’s two largest public school districts, New York City and Los Angeles Unified, have both announced universal computer science education programs, while coding is now part of the national curricula in British and Australian schools.

Students increasingly understand the importance of learning at least basic computer science skills.

“I shied away from programming because it looked really challenging and difficult,” 15-year-old Isabelle Crawford-Eng, a sophomore and honors programming student at at Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua, told NPR. “Once I took the class last year, I realized everybody has the ability to program and write code. I never understood how it worked, how it involved puzzle skills and problem solving.”

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