President Barack Obama on Saturday announced a $4 billion plan aimed at making sure all kids, especially girls and minorities, get a chance to learn computer science.
The three-year initiative, called “Computer Science for All,” would provide states with money to train teachers, equip classrooms and develop new classroom materials. It’s part of the president’s 2017 budget and would need approval of the Republican-led Congress.
“In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill — it’s a basic skill, right along with the three Rs,” Obama said as he announced the plan in his weekly radio address. “Nine out of 10 parents want it taught at their children’s schools.”
And yet right now, only a quarter of kindergarten through 12th grade schools offer computer science, Obama said. Twenty-two states don’t even allow it to count toward a diploma.
The initiative is just the latest to help bridge a well-documented tech education gap. In the fewer than 15 percent of all high schools that offered any Advanced Placement computer science courses in 2015, only 22 percent of those who took the exam were girls, and only 13 percent were African-American or Latino students, The White House said.
Being prepared for jobs of the future isn’t just about working with computers, Obama added, but also developing analytical and coding skills to power “our innovation economy.”
“Today’s auto mechanics aren’t just sliding under cars to change the oil; they’re working on machines that run on as many as 100 million lines of code. That’s 100 times more than the Space Shuttle,” he said. “Nurses are analyzing data and managing electronic health records. Machinists are writing computer programs.”
Obama’s plan, which will be unveiled officially on February 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.
The plan is also a call to lawmakers, governors, mayors and business and tech leaders to join the tech education cause.
Microsoft is an early supporter of the initiative, with company president Brad Smith reportedly telling reporters on a call set up by The White House that his company is launching a campaign to further push its computer science education programs.