As his presidency draws to a close, it would appear that much of President Obama’s legacy will be rooted in technology. The president who as a candidate was known for his savvy social media use and his ever-present Blackberry, has now pledged $4 billion to fund computer science education in America’s schools. This commitment, known as the Computer Science For All initiative, comes as the capstone to eight years of urging educators to focus on programming and coding in their high school curricula — Obama has appeared in a number of campaigns for nonprofits like Code.org, and has long emphasized the importance of STEM fields in young Americans’ lives. And now, the president is putting his money (well, our money) where his mouth is, quite literally.
The Department of Education will be responsible for divvying up the $4 billion, from which various grants will be provided to states that produce well-designed proposals of how to increase access to computer science education. “Our economy is rapidly shifting, and educators and business leaders are increasingly recognizing that CS is a ‘new basic’ skill necessary for economic opportunity and social mobility,” the White House said in an official blog post announcing the new initiative.
In addition to the $4 billion, Obama is also promising “$100 million directly for school districts in his forthcoming budget to expand K-12 CS by training teachers, expanding access to high-quality instructional materials, and building effective regional partnerships.” All this hearkens back to Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he emphasized the importance of technical skill sets among the younger generation.
“In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill — it’s a basic skill, right along with the three ‘R’s,’” the president said in his weekly radio address. And with this new financial boost, it seems that schools may come closer to providing this basic skill.
While the tech industry today is booming, the number of individuals who are qualified to fill the burgeoning need for computer engineers, programmers, and developers doesn’t seem to be growing at quite the same pace. And more concerning still is the homogeneity of the computer science field as a whole — indeed, the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley has become a distinct pain point in the last few years, and much of the problem stems from a lack of early education.
The White House points out that, “in 2015, only 22 percent of students taking the AP Computer Science exam were girls, and only 13 percent were African-American or Latino students,” but hopefully, this statistic may soon change.
“We want all Americans to have the opportunity to be part of [tech] teams,” the White House said. “CS For All will help make that a reality and ensure every student has access to Computer Science in their classrooms at all levels.”