Closing the Curricular Gap

It’s been years since I’ve spent a day away from a screen, a statement that is also applicable to the majority of my peers. We, the children of the digital age, know the true capabilities of technology—we have seen it in our everyday lives for years. Computers have given us an immense power at the touch of a finger, almost like a second brain. Too bad we don’t know how to use this power.

Despite our heavy involvement with electronics, few of us truly know how our machines work. A word like “operating system” is often met with a room of blank faces. But as we become more and more attached to technology, ignorance about how computers function is a luxury our generation cannot afford. We need to have a better understanding of how these technologies work, and we need to be able to manipulate their functions to our advantage. Computer science must be promoted in schools and beyond. It’s time we understood the complex mechanics behind our daily technological tasks.

In the 21st century, technology is the new byword for innovation and progress. Employment in all computer occupations is expected to increase 22 percent by 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and tech giants like Google, Facebook and Apple are consistently on top of “Forbes’s” list of “Best Companies to Work For.” And yet, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education, the percentage of high schoolers taking computer science has fallen from 25 percent to 19 percent since 1990. In fact, out of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses, computer science is the only field to have declined in student participation. Paradoxically, high school students are losing interest in computer science just as technological innovation has begun to boom.

Besides being necessary for the American economy, computer science develops critical thinking and problem solving, skills mentioned in class but often not put into practice. When I took Comp-470 my Junior year, I was learning a wide set of skills, including creativity, design, logical thinking and analytical problem solving. Learning computer science isn’t just learning about computers; it’s about learning a new way to think.

Fortunately, Andover, unlike other high schools, offers a variety of computer science courses, and interest in the subject is rising, not falling: this term, Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science has expanded to three sections, a figure unprecedented in the department. However, because it is not a core course, students are reluctant to take it. By condemning computer science to its status as an elective, schools are sending the message that the subject is less important than math and science, when, in fact, it is just as indispensable in our tech-oriented world.

To pique student interest, Andover should strive to broaden the scope of computer science classes. Besides AP-level courses, which can intimidate those who are new to computer science, Andover should offer more classes that cover topics like robotics, engineering and app design. Just like the small math competitions that the math department holds, computer science competitions should be held to motivate students to code.

Ultimately, computer science needs to be incorporated into our graduation requirements, even if the requirement is just one course. While not everyone may be keen on adding such a requirement, basic computing skills are necessary for survival in the modern age. If Andover wants to continue to “ensure that Phillips Academy graduates successfully complete a course of study in a broad range of disciplines and skills,” as the website states, then the school will need to update its program for the future.

If a change in the diploma requirements seems too sudden, interdisciplinary courses offer a compelling way to introduce Andover students to computer science gradually. Integrating computer science into math or science courses offers a new way to interpret data and simulate real results. Computer science and basic etymology fuse into computational linguistics, a field that employs logic and analysis to break languages down and build them back up again. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, computer science paired with philosophy can yield a heated discussion on the controversial ethics of data collection, internet privacy and government censorship.

Because the education system has been slow to espouse this relatively new subject area, Andover can be the first to show that computer science can be more than just an elective. Never before have computers been so integrated into our lives, and never before has there been a better opportunity to introduce computer science into the curriculum than now.