Sunday, October 17, 2010

Computer Science is on the wane

Panel members spoke of the need for more rigorous computer science education.

eSchoolNews reports that

U.S. needs more computer science teachers

Fewer than 65 percent of K-12 schools in the United States offer an introductory-level computer science course, much less rigorous training, according to a recent study conducted by the Association for Computing Machinery and the Computer Science Teachers Association—and an Oct. 6 Computing in the Core summit aimed to draw attention to the need for more computer science teachers.

I see a couple of reasons for it. QBasic used to be installed on all windows machines as part of 3.1, 95, 98, NT and some XP, but no longer.  If you want to play with a simple language, you have to find and install it yourself. Not a problem, you say?  Ahhhh, but when I learned Basic on the pdp-8 and then the TRS-80, that's all I could really do with it, so I learned it.  I used it occasionally in math classes whenever the problem would fall to a brute force solution.  When I moved up to the Commodor64 and then to various windows machines, it was always there.  Not anymore.  I can't even get my copy of TruBasic to install on my Win7 box, though I didn't try all that hard.

HTML might be the computer language that breaks the ice and draws in the novice programmer, but few kids care about the static web.  JavaScript, java, php, asp, ruby, python, perl, AJAX, etc. all take a significant investment in time with little to show for it until a great deal of sophistication is achieved. Oh and a website that supports it or an emulator on your machine -- again, probably more work than it's worth in the beginning..

Pascal? I'd rather do .php -- at least I can make use of that. C or C++? How incredibly tedious.

A second culprit is the rise of web 2.0.  Why?  Because web 2.0 is designed to be used by the masses and hides all of its code behind the scenes.  You don't need to code ... you just need to type.   If you consider LOL and POS as typing. This rise of Facebook and the rest of social media drains off the fence-sitters who might have enjoyed coding but who find "better things to do."

Mostly, I think there are too many incredible video games. That means that the nerds and geeks who might have turned to coding as an outlet for their geekiness are instead playing shoot-em-ups with mind-blowing graphics and intense game-play.  Zelda v1 or Space Invaders were simple enough that you could think of doing it yourself.  Zork and the other text games were fun to rework.  Warcraft? Might as well just play it. 

Randall got it right, but I can't see kids taking this route anymore:

More's the pity.


  1. Sorry, but I have to completely disagree. It was the Dot-com boom that killed computer science in secondary education. Anyone who had the skills could make much better money in much better working conditions than teaching for many years leading to many programs being cut back or canceled for lack of staffing. One gone, they are difficult to get back.

  2. But classes are offered when the students demand the courses. If there is enough interest, the teacher will be found. Programming is relatively cheap in that it doesn't need much more than a text editor and a compiler -- so the oldest computers will do just fine.

    The initial interest is what's lacking, I think.

  3. Maybe classes are offered for student (or parental) demand where you work, but the course that I offered was cut due to lack of staffing (I was assigned required courses) and we are cutting staff and electives. Students are interested, I know because I work with them unofficially, but that has zero sway with the Curriculum Director (who is the one who sets the schedules and presents the course proposals to the school board)