Yesterday, Ali Partovi, who with his brother is cofounder of Code.org, a nonprofit that’s on the rampage to integrate computer science studies into every K-8 curriculum in the world, spoke at the monthly tech lunch I host at Berkeley Rep Theater in downtown Berkeley. Due to climate change and perhaps lunar cycles, sun flares, or Biblical prophesies, even though it’s January, it was so warm we met outside in the courtyard while stagehands shuffled behind us carrying segments of scenery for a new play, Man in a Case, starring a ballet dancer I presumed long dead but still alive – Baryshnikov.
Partovi said the majority of states in this most advanced of nations in the history of the western world (we don’t know that much about the east, which could have harbored a civilization if not more industrially advanced at least more civil and creative than ours) don’t give credit to students for taking courses in computer science. Even our esteemed University of California refuses to credit comp sci courses at the high school level for consideration to its undergraduate schools.
Why are educators the slowest to learn the lessons of the present and integrate them into what they’re teaching? Do they need 50 years of validation by academics and other pundits before they consider a new science worthy of study? Sometimes it seems as if the U.S. education system is a bottleneck to the advancement of equal opportunity rather than a promoter of knowledge – including knowledge relevant to 21st century life – for all.
Code.org organized its first Hour of Code last December, and 20 million children participated in writing code of their own in schools throughout the world, although most of them in the U.S. As follow up, Code.org is making freely available 20 hours of computer science lessons for teachers on its site, and will be engaging in teacher instruction in three major cities, including Chicago and New York.
Asked whether any attempt will be made to train teachers in the SF Bay Area, Partovi said they are talking to the City of Oakland but it takes time and money to further the effort. Right now, he is funding the organization himself as well as getting money from Microsoft, Facebook and Google, among other tech companies.
In support of the effort to introduce comp sci into classes, participants at the lunch said that coding taught them how to think logically and gave them control over a machine as well as control over their own work. Children, Partovi said, all enjoy creating a game and this is the best way to introduce them to computer science as well as other sciences like physics and biology, which can become part of their programs.
If Code.org’s goals take off, computer science could become the new Latin.