Hour of Code a good start, but far short of the IT finish line for kids

This Searchlight: Hour of Code initiative is a good idea that doesn't go far enough. Plus: video games going off-screen, the NSA meets WOW and more.

Karen GoulartKaren Goulart

Back in the early 80s, a select group of students in my elementary school class were given the chance to participate in an extracurricular computer class. We played around with LOGO and a bit of BASIC. It was fun, and we were a lucky few, but it pretty much ended there. None of us became the next Bill Gates -- but it wasn't for lack of interest in programming. If we had been provided consistent opportunities to work with computers as 8-year-olds, well, who knows.

In schools across the U.S. this week, more than 10 million children were encouraged to spend time playing around with Angry Birds by their teachers, their principals, heck, even by President Obama. They weren't trying to master the piggy-punishing game -- they were learning how to make it themselves. It was all part of a Computer Science Education Week initiative called Hour of Code, which sought to increase interest in computer programming among kids in grades K-12.

As the name suggests, teachers were prompted to expose students to at least an hour of computer programming with the help of online instruction. The colorful, well-paced online tutorials and "celebrity" endorsements -- ranging from the POTUS to Mark Zuckerberg to Shakira -- gave off a fun vibe. Frankly, the whole thing, sponsored by non-profit group Code.org, sounded great.

But as Harvard economist Edward L. Glaeser bluntly opined in The Boston Globe -- which is this week's top Searchlight item -- an hour of code is not enough; not even close. Awareness-raising moments like Hour of Code are a good thing, but without a real plan behind them, they will be just that -- moments.

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Some schools already offer coding courses, but they tend to be in districts of certain means. If teaching kids to code is to be the leg up in the future workforce that its proponents believe it can be, instruction needs to be available everywhere, to everyone, Glaeser insisted.

How? Well that's where IT professionals can play a role. Aside from simply not having the time, most teachers lack the training to teach the subject. Besides, changes of this gravity happen at a "glacial pace" in the public education system, Glaeser said. So instead of relying on teachers, Glaeser suggested putting the instructor jobs out to bid so the right people -- IT experts -- will get them. Or maybe it will be you. These are your potential future employees; the makers of what will come next. Can you spare a few hours of your time?

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, senior features writer.

This was last published in December 2013

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Do you think initiatives like Hour of Code can help kids' future career prospects?
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I definitely agree. The US is falling behind in providing the market with qualified candidates. This type of initiative allows exposure to the field and gives a student an opportunity to understand the skills needed.
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As some would love to argue, this isn't enough but it's far closer than anyone right now what's to go. Major problem with this article, you asked an economist. This program is trying to get our children and students back into coding that we have fell short of for years. We need professionals that will lower their "humble" economic standards and teach these kids. This is program, and any behind it, will always "fall short" because anyone who codes wants to get paid. What programmer would sacrifice their time and their paycheck to teach kids? Public school teachers have enough problems of their own that we constantly hear about over the media, Think a programmer would want that same punishment? Don't think so.
This can go farther than we think if we would just give it a chance and give it some time. More will jump on board. Maybe more programmers will sacrifice their time and teach a semester or two. Those programmers who are out of work can jump in, too, and get a paycheck as well. This can go far if we let it instead of writing negative articles to drag it down. We need to elevate our kids' education instead of letting them scrape by with "no kid left behind".
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Good point -- I agree that it will require time, particularly since we're dealing with the public education system, which doesn't always move at the same rate as technologies evolve nowadays (not to mention the digital divide). So yeah, this public policy is a step in the right direction, and I do hope more will jump on board as you say (particularly when they see that kids that currently don't have means to technology education are part of a pool of future workers)
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Great article and I wish more schools in the U.S. were offering Computer Science courses. My son achieved her certificate of completion during his AP CS class for an hour of coding.
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