President Obama has called on Congress to approve a new $4 billion spending plan that would see computer science taught to all elementary, middle and high school students in the U.S.
Obama announced his three-year initiative, called “Computer Science for All” during last week’s radio address. He said the $4 billion would be given to states to develop new classroom materials, train teachers and equip classrooms with the necessary hardware to do so, and called on the Republican-led Congress to back the plans.
“In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill — it’s a basic skill, right along with the three Rs,” Obama offered as justification for the initiative . “9 out of 10 parents want it taught at their children’s schools.”
As it stands, computer science is seen as something of a bonus subject by many schools. Obama pointed out that just a quarter of Kindergarten to 12th grade schools currently teach computer science, while 22 states don’t allow the subject to count towards a diploma.
The president further highlighted the ‘tech education gap’ between boys and girls, revealing that of the 15 percent of U.S. high schools that offer Advanced Placement computer science courses, only 22 percent of students who took the exam were girls. Demographics are also a factor, because just 13 percent of those who took the exam where African-American or Latinos, Obama added.
Obama said it’s important that students know more than just how to use a computer. He said computer science was vital for students to develop coding and analytical skills that are necessary to speed up the U.S.’s “innovation economy”.
“Today’s auto mechanics aren’t just sliding under cars to change the oil; they’re working on machines that run on as many as 100 million lines of code. That’s 100 times more than the Space Shuttle,” the president said.
Obama said he’ll officially launch his new plan later this month, with $100 million of the cash going directly to school districts so they can launch computer science programs. Additionally, the plan calls for the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the National Science Foundation to both spend $135 million in existing funds to pay for teacher training programs over the next five years. Obama also called for businesses, governors, lawmakers, mayors and tech leaders to support the initiative.
The president has already secured the support of Microsoft, whose legal eagle president Brad Smith said is launching its own computer science education programs to bolster the plan.