ROD GUAJARDO: Strong school attendance goes beyond dollars, cents

ROD GUAJARDO

School districts across Mississippi have an opportunity to take advantage of a pilot program that could help prepare students to compete in the 21st century workplace.

The Mississippi Department of Education’s Office of Secondary Education posted last week a request for applications for a computer science curriculum pilot program dubbed “CS4MS.”

The program is intended to allow districts across the Magnolia State to offer computer science courses as part of a bigger-picture goal of developing standards in schools that “will ensure students are prepared from both an academic and an applied standpoint to pursue careers in computer science.”

The days of thinking computing knowledge and skills only apply to a certain career field are gone. In this fast-paced world where computers are involved in just about every single thing we do, computer science curriculum should be viewed as fundamental course material not unlike any other math or science course.

If students are given the opportunity, or even required, to take these courses, they will be better equipped to compete and excel in jobs in a number of fields that require basic knowledge in computer science such as medicine, energy, transportation and even entertainment.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that by 2020, there will be more than 1.4 million computer programming jobs available, but only 400,000 computer science students in America.

And less than 2.4 percent of college students graduate with a degree in computer science, according to Code.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging more students to learn programming and coding skills.

One of the goals of the CS4MS pilot is to help increase students’ exposure to computer science, problem-solving skills and logical thinking in an effort to attract more students to those available jobs. But the program also aims to better prepare students to enter high education and a constantly changing workforce.

As a part of the application, school districts must agree to provide a number of things including computers and access to sufficient bandwidth for those computers, as well as an overall commitment to the program for three years.

In exchange for those requirements, MDE says it will provide all curriculum and supplemental materials, all professional development and associated travel costs and ongoing teacher support.

School district leaders across the state should thoroughly review the pilot program application, which is due Feb. 29, and determine if they are able to take advantage of this opportunity to provide their students a chance to learn more about logic, problem solving and creativity through computer science curriculum.

And as the results of this pilot program begin trickling in over the next few years, state level education leaders should take advantage of that momentum to champion a push that would require computer science to be a part of the state curriculum or at least allow those classes to count towards the high school graduation policy.

Mississippi is not alone in being behind in terms of offering and requiring computer science curriculum options for its students, but that doesn’t mean our state needs to stay behind.

Since 2013, a number of states have changed policies to allow rigorous computer science classes to satisfy high school graduation requirements in math and science, including some of our neighbors in Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee.

A number of states, including Arkansas, have developed or are evaluating developing state education standards for computer science.

The success stories of students who excel in the proposed CS4MS pilot program would be a great resource to help prove the need of this curriculum in our schools.

If we expect Mississippi students to compete with other students from across the country and world, giving them the tools to succeed has to be the first step.

Rod Guajardo is editor of the Daily Journal. Connect with him through Twitter: @rodgjournal, by email: rod.guajardo@journalinc.com or by phone: (662) 678-1579.

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