Did you make a New Year’s resolution to "learn to code" last year? Many public school students did, too—and probably like you, many of them failed to follow through. It’s hard to blame them when offline support is hard to find. Only 13 states count computer science courses toward high school graduation, and less than 5% of schools offer Computer Science AP.
Code.org is on a mission to change that: Today the nonprofit announced partnerships with 30 school districts, including 10 of the nation’s largest. In return for establishing computer science as part of their standard curriculum, districts will receive classroom resources, teacher training and stipends, and even support for counselors responsible for advising students on their course decisions.
For cofounder and CEO Hadi Partovi, who fell in love with technology at the age of 10 when his father bought him a computer and encouraged him to build his own games, the district partnerships are a crucial step toward nurturing a generation with the ability to "make things."
"Learning the capitals of different states and countries is not going to make your life better," Partovi says. "But learning to make a website or an app is going to have an impact."
Kids seem to agree: Since launching with a marketing campaign that featured everyone from Ashton Kutcher to Shakira, 1 million students have enrolled in Code.org's introductory computer science course and 33 million have tried an "Hour of Code." At the same time, as Code.org looks to capitalize on the grassroots momentum around programming, the nonprofit is seeking to broaden the definition of computer science education to include the role of technology in society.
"If you teach just computer programming without teaching the reasons to learn it, a lot of people aren’t really interested," Partovi says. He recalled a memory from his past work at Microsoft, when a judge overseeing a case that involved the technology giant pronounced "log-in" with a soft "g," leading to considerable confusion. "Imagine trying to be a lawyer 10 years from now, not knowing how basic technology works. Already lawyers struggle to regulate things, and it’s only going to get more complicated."
Partovi expects to sign on 70 more districts by the end of the year, with an eye toward ensuring a broad geographic mix. It’s unclear exactly how many Code.org-based classrooms will be up and running this fall, but the nonprofit is hopeful that its blended learning model and ability to bear the costs of implementation will help schools overcome their concerns about allocating resources to computer science in place of other subjects.
"Schools are constantly getting pressured to add this and that," Partovi says. His argument is simple: "Let the students decide."