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Code.org to make programming available to everyone

Non-profit foundation wants computer science in every high school and middle school in the nation

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
March 1, 2013 | Comments
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/2dd6

There's a vision that people have when it comes to coders and hackers, and I suspect it has a lot to do with movies they have seen. Close your eyes and picture a hacker or coder. What is the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear those words? It's Mark Zuckerberg, sitting in front of his computer in his dorm room from the Social Network, isn't it? 

It conjures up images of people hunched over their computers in the dark typing at lightning fast speeds. And because this is how most of us think about computer programming, it can often seems intimidating, and too complicated, for the average person. 

It is these types of stereotypes that brothers Hadi Partovi and Ali Partovi are trying to dispell with their on-profit organization called Code.org, which is dedicated to making computer programming available to every high schooler across the nation.

The goals of Code.org

There are two long term goals for the organization, Ali Partovi told me in an interview. One is to make it so that every high school and middle school across the nation offers computer programming and computer scienece classes. The second is to make it so that every single state makes computer science a requirement for graduation.

Currently, only nine states have this requirement, while the other 41, including California, do not.

The organization, which only launched in January, is currently at a stage where it is focusing on it's short term goal of getting the word out, Partovi said, which involves trying to make computer programming less intimidating for students.

Part of this plan involves a short video made by Lesley Chilcott, the producer of the documentaries An Inconvenient Truth and Waiting For Superman, which premiered this week, and which features famous tech pioneers like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Dropbox creator Drew Houston, and even NBA star Chris Bosh, telling their story about how they got into programming.

The short message: you don't have to be genius to do this. If we can do it, so can you!

You can see it below:

The video has only been up for two days, Partovi said, and it is already the number one video on YouTube. In fact, with its view count right standing at nearly 4.3 million, it as already been seen by more people who watched An Inconvenient Truth, at least going by box office numbers.

It that film, actually that Partovi says inspired this one. 

"That film did not solve the global warming crisis, but it brought attention to it. It got the country talking. That is what we are trying to do with this film as well."

To achieve its long term goals, the foundation will be raising money to invest into schools, which will take three different tracks: teacher training, creating curriculums , and weaving computer science into existing classes.

  • Teacher training - teachers will need to learn computer science if they are going to be teaching it to their students. Code.org wants to raise money to help hire a new group of teachers as well.
  • Creating curriculums - there are lot of great curriculums already, Partovi said, and that will allow them to curate and pick the best ones, while also making some of their own.
  • Weaving computer science into existing classes -  what stops a lot of schools from offering computer science is that it is not a requirment. Making it one is one of the foundation's goals, but it may actually be easier to put it into already existing classes, such as physics, biology, chemisty and math. These classes are already required, and so students would be able to learn without needing extra classes.

Both Ali and Hadi have each put $1 million into the foundation, which went toward making the short film, and there have been donations coming in from individuals and corporations. Ultimately at least $10 to $20 million will be needed to put computer science in every high school. And that does even include all the middle schools they want to put it into as well.

Why computer science?

Part of it has to do with what kind of jobs will be opening up in the next decade.

Over the next ten years there will be 1.4 million jobs in computer science, but only 400,000 graduates who are qualified to fill them. That leave a million open positions that we cannot fill.

But there are deeper reasons for wanting to teach children about computer science that Partovi told me about, including how they learn, and who gets to learn it.

'Students who are exposed to computer science learn more," he said. "They learn to think logically and creatively. It unlocks their creative potential."

It makes them feel like they change the things they do not like, and can create the things they do not have. And this is especially important when it comes to girls and minorities, as it can help give them a feeling of empowerment that they normally would not have.

Young girls who do not learn computer science will not be as confident and assertive as those who do, Partovi said.

Learning computer programming leads to unparalled career opportunities. It gives students the opportunity to learn skills that will lead to high paying jobs. And right now, a very small number of schools are even offering these types of classes.

"Why should it be only for rich white students? That is unfair, and it is unjust," Partovi said. Computer progamming is a great equalizer, and it allows all students to have the same opportunities going forward.

Member of the advisory board at Code.org include Ron Conway, Jack Dorsey, Max Levchin, and Marc Andreseen.

(Image source: http://www.code.org)

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