Computing Applications

Educating Computing’s Next Generation

  1. Article
  2. Author
  3. Footnotes
Robert B. Schnabel of Indiana University, Bloomington
Robert "Bobby" Schnabel is Chair of the ACM Education Policy Committee and Dean of the School of Informatics at Indiana University.

In a sensible world—at least as defined by computer scientists who, as we all know, are eminently sensible people—there would be no need for the ACM Education Policy Committee (EPC). Educational systems, and the policymakers and officials who influence them, would be fully aware that computer science knowledge and skills are among the most essential ingredients of a modern education. They would recognize that not only does this knowledge provide the foundation for modern competency in many others fields ranging from sciences to communications to entertainment and more, but that only through giving students deep computer science (CS) knowledge can we expect to have a new generation that can create—not just consume—the next wave of computing innovations. Educators and policymakers also would be fully cognizant that in conversations about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs, the current and projected demand for computing workers far outstrips any other area of STEM and faces by far the greatest deficiency of supply relative to demand.

Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world. All aspects of our world are influenced by history, and the existence of CS still "only" dates back about half a century, which pales in comparison to math, biology, chemistry, physics, and other sciences. While the higher education system adapted fairly quickly to the existence and importance of CS, the K–12 system has not. More recently, the situation has gotten worse in nations including the U.S. and the U.K. In the U.S (the initial focus of the EPC), the last decade has seen significant declines in the number of K–12 CS courses, the number of students taking the CS advanced placement exam, and the number of undergraduate CS majors. At the same time, however, the demand for CS professionals continues to grow. In addition, the participation of women and underrepresented minorities remains low at all levels.

ACM formed the EPC in 2007 to engage policymakers and the public on public policy issues in CS, including:

  • Reviewing issues that impact science, math, and CS education in K–12 and higher education
  • Determining whether current policies are serving the computing field and recommending improvements
  • Commenting on proposals before governmental bodies that impact computing education
  • Educating policymakers on the importance of computing education
  • Providing expertise on key computing education issues to policymakers

While the U.S. is the initial focus, computing education is a global issue and many positions of the committee have global applicability.

In its brief history, the EPC has had some significant impacts, including:

  • Co-sponsoring the 2010 report "Running on Empty: The Failure to Teach K–12 Computer Science in the Digital Age," which examined the extent to which CS education is incorporated into current state education standards and to what extent states allow CS courses to count as a graduation credit in a required or core subject. Key report findings include that only nine states allow a CS course to count as a core graduation credit and that 14 states have adopted no standards (see http://www.acm.org/runningonempty/).
  • Leading the development and implementation of CSEd Week. Beginning in 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives endorsed the week of Grace Hopper’s birthday (Dec. 6) to recognize the critical role of computing to bolster CS education at all levels. The 2010 week included over 1,700 pledges of support and 270 activities and events from 45 states and over 30 countries.
  • Leading development of the Computing in the Core coalition, a nonpartisan advocacy coalition of associations, corporations, scientific societies, and other non-profits seeking to elevate the national profile of U.S. K–12 CS education.
  • Holding numerous events in D.C. and at conferences, and meetings with government policymakers, to raise awareness of CS education issues.
  • Commenting on various STEM education studies and policies to assure full attention to CS, with marked impact in some cases.

There are, as Robert Frost said, miles to go before we sleep. We welcome your suggestions and support!

Back to Top

Back to Top

Join the Discussion (0)

Become a Member or Sign In to Post a Comment

The Latest from CACM

Shape the Future of Computing

ACM encourages its members to take a direct hand in shaping the future of the association. There are more ways than ever to get involved.

Get Involved

Communications of the ACM (CACM) is now a fully Open Access publication.

By opening CACM to the world, we hope to increase engagement among the broader computer science community and encourage non-members to discover the rich resources ACM has to offer.

Learn More