Jun 07 2017

SIS 2017: Computational Thinking at the Heart of the New Digital Divide

With the global workforce turning to more technology-focused jobs, educators need to introduce computational thinking to prepare workers for the future.

“Right now, there are 500,000 open computing jobs across the U.S., and only 40,000 students are graduating to fill those positions,” said Daryl Brewster, CEO of CECP, as he moderated a panel at the 2017 Social Innovation Summit in Chicago.

It’s not news that as our economy becomes increasingly digitized, our workforce must become more fluent in technology. But that reality looms large: For the nearly 3 billion people in the workforce today to remain productive, one out of three work skills will need to change by 2020.

“Business used to drive technology; now technology drives business,” said Balaji Ganapathy, head of workforce effectiveness for Tata Consultancy Services. “Artificial intelligence will change the workforce in the future.”

One of those forward-looking skills is computational thinking — not just teaching people how to code, but rather how to analyze artificial intelligence. To clarify the distinction, Ganapathy used an analogy: “Creating a meal is coding — knowing how to cook is computational thinking”

Closing the Tech Skills Gap with Education

Closing the tech skills gap will require a different approach to computer science, technology and digital literacy.

Susanne Thompson, head of educator development and learning communities at Discovery Education, said it’s imperative that digital fluency be considered as important as reading and writing.

“Computer science shouldn’t be a separate vertical,” she said. “We need to bring teachers and parents into the world of using technology to learn.”

Take art education, for example. Computational thinking can help students understand the philosophy and logic behind the creation of impressionistic art. By leveraging computational thinking outside the strict confines of a personal computer, teachers can push students to explore how technology and digital content trickle down to other areas of education, she added.

Real-World Computational Thinking Outreach

To help reach and engage students with computational thinking, TCS (in partnership with Discovery and other organizations) has launched the Ignite My Future program to address “the inequities that limit access to high-quality STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education for all students.” The program aims to “level the playing field to inspire more students to consider studying Computer Science (and other STEM subjects)” through mentoring programs that so far have reached more than 18,000 students.

Discovery can serve as the bridge between companies such as TCS and the schools, said Thompson.

“This will help the schools understand why it’s important to teach computational thinking,” she said. “Skip the policy part with administration and get this into schools and into the hands of educators at the school level.”


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