High Schools Focus on the Wrong STEM Topics


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Educators know that overall, kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) students are not being offered as much education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) topics as the experts would like. However, within the broader field of STEM education, there are also considerable issues with focus areas. The current educational system makes it difficult for students to gain an education in some of the most relevant STEM topics before college.

The Balance of STEM Jobs

Many educators and interested people have heard about the upcoming need for STEM trained professionals. In the future, analysts predict, there will be considerable growth in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs. However, many people don't consider how the numbers will shake out.

Computer scientists are predicted to be one of the most in-demand professionals of the future. Increasing use of computer technology means that digital systems are being used in more areas of business and everyday life. However, they are sufficiently sophisticated that trained professionals are required to install, maintain and troubleshoot. This means more jobs for STEM professionals trained in computer science.

Little Computer Science in High Schools

Experts say one hundred and twenty thousand new STEM jobs that require at least a bachelor's degree in computer science will be added to the job force in 2014. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that only 30 percent of the 1.4 million new jobs in computer technology will be filled in 2020. The lack of computer science professionals is not just a future problem either. Despite the generally tough economic times, there were approximately 100,000 unfilled computer science jobs in the country as of early 2013.

Given these facts, it seems as if STEM education offerings that involve computer science for high school students should be the norm. Yet, computer science is barely offered at high schools around the nation. When it is offered, it does not usually fulfill college prerequisites. Without the chance to prepare in high schools, students go into colleges unprepared for the rigors of computer science degrees.

Only five percent of the high schools in the United States, both public and private, offered the Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science exam in 2012. While this may not sound bad, it represents a loss of 25 percent from 2007. Introductory computer science course offerings also have dipped 17 percent since 2005. Computer science training in high school should be on the rise, not quickly falling.

The Graduation Problem

Even when computer science courses are offered in high schools, they usually cannot be counted toward graduation requirements. Only nine states allow computer science courses to count toward math or science requirements for high school graduation. As electives, students are much less likely to take these classes.

Learning computer science in high school has some important implications. Students who are exposed to subjects in high schools are given a chance to become interested in them, and this may influence their choice of colleges and careers. Students who take computer science courses in high schools are also more prepared for the challenge of college classes on the subject. Unprepared students may be more likely to drop out or change majors when they face the hurdles of beginning a degree in the subject.

The Teacher Problem

Like all STEM topics, computer science education in high school suffers from a lack of qualified teachers. There are a number of reasons why people with computer science degrees do not go into teaching including the lucrative opportunities from big software companies that are available to them. Teachers work harder and are paid much less than employees of Google, Microsoft, and other tech giants.

During his State of the Union address, President Obama took the time to acknowledge the problem of lacking STEM education, and specifically technology education, in K-12 schools. Efforts are being made to increase computer science availability to interested students. A project called After School Programming provides course materials for non-computer science teachers so that high school students can at least learn the basics. However, high school students usually have little time for coursework that does not advance their graduation goals, and After School Programming will not.

The Student Problem

Computer science also has a bit of a bad reputation. People like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are not exactly role models for every teenager. In addition, the idea of a nerd in front of a bulky computer screen is more in line with the average high school students' image of a computer scientist rather than what is reality.

Classes in computer science are also not interesting to students in many cases. The skills taught by AP computer science courses are practical but not necessarily engaging to the teenage mind. Computer science is a dynamic, exciting and constantly changing field, but if the only high school classes available on the subject do not adequately represent these aspects of the field, students may lose interest.


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