It's been hard to miss the widely publicized calls to address the shortage of coders and programmers that seems to be looming over the tech industry. Everyone from celebrities, business leaders, politicians, and even professional athletes are encouraging students to take up coding. Even the father of the world wide web, Tim Berners Lee, was calling for computer science education at a younger age last year. But according to a recent NPR Marketplace report, there is a shortage of teachers with coding skills and addressing this problem is creating a new set of challenges.
In my experience, good computer science and coding teachers are rare due to the mix of skills needed to teach children of the digital age. The computing field moves quickly and is constantly changing, unlike traditional subjects like math, english, and much of foundational science. People with the required knowledge from technology backgrounds or degrees in computer science are hard to come by in the primary education sector. They are most often working in the tech industry. Even if someone with the skills necessary wanted to teach in public schools, they often aren't allowed to do so unless they have an education degree or teaching certificate. Most computer science teachers that I have personally met work in private schools. The result is a shortage of qualified and knowledgeable instructors. As NPR's Marketplace reports "good luck finding a coding teacher".
““Around the world, schools are dealing with this circular problem in which kids need to learn coding, but teachers can’t teach it. “ - Blake Farmer, NPR Marketplace
To address this problem many places including schools in Nashville are training their existing teachers to fill the gap. Teacher training programs are also popping up around the country with crash courses in coding. This seems like a reasonable solution to introduce programming at an elementary / beginner level because the knowledge requirements aren't as deep. However teaching coding at a middle and especially high school level will certainly be more difficult as students are able to take on more complex programming languages, easily outpacing the teachers around them. And once a teacher has developed the skills to teach coding then the challenge becomes keeping him or her on staff as their new skills are increasingly in demand. Teachers can be trained up and then leave for better school offers or, as NPR reports, the private industry.
Some places are simply requiring coding classes to be taught and then letting the schools figure it out on their own. England's primary schools have made the courses mandatory so we'll see how it works out but teachers are calling it chaotic so far according to Marketplace. Here in Georgia, there was recent news made by the governor about computer classes at the high school level in order to train future computer programmers and software developers for jobs in the state. Many news channels covering this trumpeted the governors call for more coding classes. However what it appears he really asked for was "to allow computer programming courses to satisfy core requirements in math, science, or foreign language". As it stands today, computer programming courses can only count as an elective. The governor didn't offer schools any help with curriculum, resources, or as NPR points out is especially needed - more teachers. Perhaps this is just election year promises but at least it's a step in the right direction. We also currently have the odd situation in Georgia where only teachers with a business certificate can teach coding class and AP CS, not math or science teachers. This can only increase a teacher shortage.
We're going to keep doing our part to teach coding to kids and hopefully some of them will become future programming instructors. Some of our current students are already helping out with classes as assistant instructors and it's great to see their potential for this. Start Code will will continue to be a place for students to learn programming at a deeper level ensuring that this generation has the best skills for whatever jobs they pursue.