Op-Ed in Education Week: The Real Threat to American Jobs

Julie Flapan & Jane Margolis call for a sustainable education strategy that prepares students to participate in society through technology.

Jane Margolis, senior researcher at UCLA’s Center X, and Julie Flapan, director of Exploring Computer Science, a Center X initiative, have published an op-ed on Education Week on the need for equity in computer science education. In “Stop Scapegoating, Start Educating,” the co-authors point out the need to stop blaming individuals and technology for the seeming dearth of opportunity in today’s job market.

As we look ahead to the Trump presidency, instead of scapegoating, we need significant investments in a sustainable education strategy that prepares youths to effectively participate in the world of tomorrow,” Flapan and Margolis write. “In fact, as technology replaces some jobs, it also allows new ones to emerge. The problem is that we’re not adequately educating our young people to be prepared for this new tech economy that requires a foundational understanding of computer science.”

Flapan and Margolis state that computing jobs are the number one source of new wages in the U.S. and among the highest-paying. Despite these facts, they posit that students are not being prepared or qualified to fill these positions – or many others.

“… it’s not just about preparing students for careers in technology; students who know computer science have a jump start across all fields, including arts, agriculture, business, health care, and entertainment,” Margolis and Flapan write. “Computing has become essential knowledge in nearly every industry.”

The co-authors also point out that demographically underrepresented students of color and low-income students are least likely to be offered courses in computer science.

When students in underserved schools are denied access, experience, and role models in computing, they are left further behind,” they write. “Only 13 percent of AP computer science test-takers identified as African-American or Latino, while these students made up more than 24 percent of test-takers across all AP exams in 2015. Ensuring access for all students to this foundational knowledge is important preparation for college, careers, and civic participation.

Margolis and Flapan also underscore the importance of computing knowledge in creating critical thinking skills, both as related to technology and society in general.

“Computer science isn’t just about operating a computer or a cellphone,” they write. “Rather than being passive users of technology, students need to learn how to be responsible creators of it. Computer science teaches algorithmic thinking, problem-solving, and creativity as students learn how to build apps, design a web page, and understand how the internet actually works.

“Beyond jobs, this past year revealed other reasons why learning computer science is important in a democracy,” write Flapan and Margolis. “Whether it be through thinking critically to distinguish fake news from real news, understanding algorithms that are used to target its users, considering cybersecurity and the role it played in email scandals, or amplifying marginalized voices through social media, we can see the power of technology in our everyday lives. Becoming digitally literate, critical, and constructive thinkers about how to use technology responsibly should be required learning for everyone. Making America great can be accomplished only by investing in all our students today to help prepare them for the world of tomorrow.”

To read “Stop Scapegoating, Start Educating” in Education Week, click here.