Key Los Angeles stakeholders come together in support of computer science education to prepare students for 21st Century job market.
UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the nonprofit Code.org collectively launched the Los Angeles segment of National Computer Science Education Week at the UCLA Community School on Dec. 10 at the Paul Schrade Library at UCLA Community School, with local and state lawmakers, and industry leaders from Microsoft, Apple, Google and other Los Angeles–based technology companies in attendance.
The event highlighted the week’s Hour of Code campaign, which gives K–12 students a one-hour lesson to demystify computer programming — or coding — and demonstrate that anyone can create innovative computer programs. One the largest learning events in history, the Hour of Code was developed to involve more than 3 million students in over 160 countries.
The launch also spotlighted Exploring Computer Science (ECS), a program in 31 Los Angeles schools that seeks to provide access to computer education for all students and to broaden computer science opportunities for girls, Latinos, African-Americans and other students of color. The Los Angeles City Council officially declared the week of Dec. 9, 2013, Computer Science Week in the City of Los Angeles.
Leyda Garcia, principal of UCLA Community School, underscored the importance of her students – most of who come from the lower-income, English learner communities of Koreatown/Pico-Union – being able to play a teaching role for visitors to the school that day.
“It’s so exciting to have our students be the ones… bridging the [technology] gap for somebody else – they’re the ones teaching people how to code, they’re the ones who are sharing this knowledge,” said Leyda Garcia, principal of UCLA Community School.
Garcia and GSE&IS Dean Marcelo Súarez-Orozco kicked off the event, with speakers Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, senior policy advisor and director of education and workforce development for the Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti; California Assemblyman Ed Chau (49th Dist.); Gerardo Loera, executive director of curriculum and instruction for LAUSD; Jane Margolis, senior researcher at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies; Jenny Martinez, a 9th grader at UCLA Community School; David Bernier, director of ECS at UCLA’s Center X; and James Gwertzman, chief evangelist at Code.org. The speakers made a call to action for expanding learning opportunities for students through the increased support of industry, government, and education leaders.
“UCLA is delighted to partner with Hadi Partovi and Code.org in sharing the important message: moving forward in the 21st Century, we must all work together to ensure that all children have access to computer science learning,” said Súarez-Orozco. This is the type of urgent challenge that requires partnerships between all stakeholders in education today – researchers, teachers, policymakers, city and state officials, the philanthropic world, and industry.”
Súarez-Orozco and Margolis received a Proclamation from the City of Los Angeles, and welcomed Meléndez de Santa Ana to the podium, who was in attendance on behalf of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. She shared the mayor’s vision of creating a pipeline through computer education in schools and professional development for the existing workforce to strengthen the city’s economy.
“STEM jobs tend to be higher paying than most jobs in other categories, yet remain unfilled because employers cannot find applicants with the necessary skills,” said Meléndez de Santa Ana. “This pronounced skills gap is a tragedy for the millions of unemployed, and an urgent threat to American competitiveness.”
Meléndez de Santa Ana said that while computer science jobs represent 60 percent of STEM-related careers, there is a shortfall of skilled graduates entering the market.
“In the entire U.S., only 65,000 students this year will graduate with computer science-related degrees,” she said. “In 2011, just 45 percent of U.S. high school graduates were ready for college level math. Only 30 percent were ready for science. By 2020, there will be one million more computer-related jobs than students qualified to fill them.”
Schwartzman noted that although Code.org’s “Hour of Code” initiative was only hatched a few months ago, the enthusiasm that resulted from the dynamic video campaign inspired 4.8 million students as of that morning, to attempt their first hour of learning code.
“An “Hour of Code” is an attempt to demystify for students the stereotypes. Every student needs to learn computer science,” said Schwartzman. “We believe computer science is one of the most foundational skills for the 21st Century. You need the basis of computer science if you’re going to play a role in the new economy.
“Obviously, you can’t learn coding a computer in an hour,” he said. “What you can learn in an hour is that it’s not that hard, that anyone can learn, and that it’s actually fun and creative. It’s going to help you no matter what your career is going to be.”
Assemblyman Chau noted that California’s stature as a place of scientific innovation is largely due to computer science, with key industries in health monitoring, communications and social media, and enhanced mechanical devices for the disabled.
“Here in California, computer science has actually taken our country’s entrepreneurial culture to new heights, with the development of technologies that are transforming our economy [and] our daily lives,” Chau said. “Rest assured that the transformation won’t stop there. The fact is computer science is so fundamental to numerous occupations of the 21st Century. The U.S. Bureau of Labor projects that by the year 2020, there will be 4.6 million jobs in computing or information technology, which is more than all other science technology fields combined.”
Chau spoke about the importance of teaching computing to students who are underrepresented in the field, including women and minority students. He also underscored the need for schools to have ready access to computer technology.
“Technology has transformed our world,” he said. “It also is challenging our current literacy practices. In fact, it is widely believed that computer science is the new literacy, and the ability to program will be considered essential skills, very similar to the ability to read and write.”
Margolis, who is the author of “Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing,” said that the eight-year collaboration of Center X with LAUSD formed the genesis of bringing the ECS curriculum to Los Angeles schools.
“As a researcher who started out doing research on what was happening with computer science in L.A. schools, I found that often, typing was confused with computer science,” said Margolis. “And in schools with high numbers of African American and Latino kids, there was no computer science. I said, ‘We have to do something about the problem. We’re not going to just have research that is going to sit on the shelf.’
“We started in 2006 [and] created a curriculum that included web design, working with data, problem solving, and having kids really hands-on experience what it’s like to do computer science, to speak the language of computer science, to be computer scientists.”
Margolis said that today, more than 3,000 LAUSD students – the majority of which are African American and Latino – annually participate in ECS, with an unprecedented 46 percent female representation over the 18 percent national average. She said that a collaborative effort is needed among all stakeholders in education, policy, and industry to support computing in schools with teaching personnel and equipment.
“We are committed to being in schools [for] kids of color and we are committed to fighting for equity,” she said. “What’s happening in computer science in this country so far is that it’s been available only to a very narrow band of kids… with what we call preparatory privilege: the kids who have parents that are fortunate enough to send their kids to summer camps, have private tutors, have robotics kits under the Christmas tree.
“We are committed in our mission… to bring this knowledge that opens up doors of opportunity across all fields, whether you want to be an artist, a musician, a journalist, a computer scientist, an oceanographer, a car mechanic, a fashion designer. All of these fields will need computer science moving forward. It’s going to take all of us to do this.”
Kim Merino, an ECS teacher at UCLA Community School, said that her passion for teaching began with history after graduating from UCLA with a M.Ed. in Teacher Education Program (TEP),and a master’s degree in histoy. Her teaching interests now include computer science as well.
“I left UCLA with a fire in my belly to change what was happening in education,” said Merino. “I found that in history and it got me up every single morning. And I’ve found a new fire within computer science.”
Merino is the only teacher in the ECS program at UCLA Community School, and is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in computer information systems at Devry University. She says that teachers need professional development in order to fill the need for qualified computer science teachers in L.A. schools.
“I’m inspired by what [students] do every day and what they’re accomplishing already in 9th grade,” said Merino. “And this is what you can do. We need support not only for the students, but for the teachers as well. We need to inspire teachers to go back [to school and learn to] teach computer science.”
David Bernier, director of ECS at UCLA’s Center X, said that Los Angeles needs a corps of individuals dedicated to computer education and who can help provide student internship opportunities; increase interaction between industry and schools; expand ECS throughout all of LAUSD high schools; support teachers’ professional development; and sponsor competitions for students.
“The Hour of Code is an hour; National Computer Science Education Week is a week,” he said. “But we want to continue the momentum… not just through this year, but long term. As was mentioned by many of the speakers, we want this to be the beginning of our collaboration together.”
Meléndez de Santa Ana shared her story of shaking Robert F. Kennedy’s hand during his presidential campaign when she was in the 5th grade with the audience, which was assembled on this day in the Paul Schrade Library under a Judy Baca mural titled, “Tiny Ripples of Hope,” after a book by the late Sen. Kennedy.
“That hope that I felt as a fifth grader… is the hope that our students have in us as we reach out to them,” said Meléndez de Santa Ana. “Education is the civil rights issue of this generation. Therefore, it is important for us to do whatever we can to open those pathways to prosperity for our students.”
Above: GSE&IS Dean Marcelo Suárez-Orozco watches UCLA Community Students as they practice their “Hour of Code.”