Obama Moves To Fix A Problem Putting US Students At A Big Disadvantage

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President Obama moves toward making computer education accessible to all children in America, especially girls of color.

President Barack Obama in his weekly address announced a $4 billion plan aimed at making sure all kids, especially girls and minorities, get a chance to learn computer science in K-12 schools.

The three year initiative is called "Computer Science For All" and will be included in the president’s 2017 budget plan.

“In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill, it’s a basic skill ... Nine out of 10 parents want it taught at their children's schools,” Obama said in his weekly address from the White House.

So, this new plan, if approved by the Congress, is all about rebooting computer education especially among girls and African-American children.

Sadly, according to surveys, just a quarter of kindergarten, middle and high schools offer computer science; only 28 states count such courses for credit for high school diplomas. Those statistics put American children at a disadvantage as coding and computer science become necessary skills.

“Our high school graduation rate is an all time high,” Obama said, “That’s what this is all about — each of us doing our part to make sure all our young people can compete.”

Obama's plan, which will be unveiled officially on Feb. 9, also calls for sending $100 million directly to school districts to help launch computer science programs. In addition, it directs the National Science Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service to spend more than $135 million in existing funds on teacher training over a five-year period beginning this year.

Besides requiring big sums for funding, this plan will also confront difficulties in training teachers and providing proper broadband access to schools for the education.

The plan is a good step toward bridging the tech education gap, especially when it’s acknowledging the fact that wide disparities exist even for those who have access to these courses. There’s also a fact that majority of the children getting tech and computer education are white, automatically discouraging many children from taking these courses.

In 2015, only 22 percent of students taking the AP Computer Science exam were girls, and only 13 percent were African-American or Latino students, according to the White House. Those disparities stick around. Women make up one-third and African Americans less than 3 percent of the work forces in some of America’s largest and most innovative tech firms. 

Obama also calls for lawmakers, governors, CEOs, philanthropists and business tech leaders to come forward and take part in this tech education cause.

Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft, was among the first to praise and support this initiative and is expanding his already launched 50-state campaign to further push computer science education programs.

We hope that after this initiative that everyone has a fair shot in this new digital economy. Every student should graduate with equal opportunities, equipped with analytical skills to power the economy. And their race, gender and socioeconomic status shouldn’t prevent them from moving forward in any way.

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