JoAnn Newman, president and CEO of the Orlando Science Center, got to visit the White House earlier this week for a conference with national leaders on how to move forward on computer science education.
She and others in her field say a computer science education is crucial to a wide array of important jobs.
But the problem is, not enough graduates are filling the spaces for those jobs. Of the 500,000 jobs in the computer science field, there were only 43,000 graduates last year who filled them. That number is too low in a modern, tech-obsessed world where computer science is a facet in everything we do, Newman said.
And it isn’t just a certain niche of jobs in closed-in laboratories and where the uniforms consist of long white coats and beakers and goggles. In today’s world, Newman said it’s a much broader variety of jobs.
“It’s not just science and technology jobs,” she said. “It’s everything from health care to manufacturing.”
The invitation to the White House was based on the Science Center’s partnership with Code.org, a nonprofit that focuses on getting more teachers trained to teach computer sciences. The Orlando Science Center’s role with Code.org according to Newman, is to train teachers on computer science, support the curriculum, and make sure the courses are of a high quality.
Newman went to the White House accompanied by representatives from the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation and Tupperware Brands, both of which aim to promote computer science education as well as the advancement of girls and minority students at younger ages in that field.
Yolanda Londono, Vice President of Global Social Responsibility with Tupperware, said it was important to educate children on computer science because they grow up in a world now where they take their technology for granted.
“Everything is packaged easy,” she said. “This generation has apps that provide solutions. They’ve been born into a world permeated with technology. It’s easy to become a consumer of technology, for young kids to take it for granted. This is an opportunity to bring them an awareness. They can also influence, learn and modify technology. They don’t have to stop at downloading an app – they can also create one. They don’t all have to go into the field as a profession, either. You don’t need to be a chef to be good in the kitchen.”
On the importance of teaching computer science to girls and minority children in particular, Newman said a factor in their exclusion was of a lack of opportunity.
“With something like engineering, if they don’t already have a close family member doing it, they don’t know what it is,” she said. “Some kids have heard about it but don’t know much about it. It may seem unachievable. They’ll say ‘I know what that is, but I don’t think I could do that.’ Learning about it at the science center doesn’t seem so daunting.”
Newman returned from the White House with a renewed assurance the country understands the gravity of computer science’s importance.
“The White House is very supportive of this kind of initiative because they see the gap in jobs,” she said. “They view this as the future in terms of everything from medical technology to the defense of our country. This field is such an important part of science and technology, and they’re recognizing that we have this gap, that we’ve got to be able to inspire youth to help them to understand what these pathways are and inspire more of them to take that path and fill critical jobs.”