Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Computer Science Education Revisited

Communications of the ACM, August 2013
Vinton G. Cerf, ACM President, weighs in on why computer science should be considered a core discipline, just like physics or biology. Cerf starts off by noting that ACM members have a wide range of academic and professional paths that have led them to become computer science practitioners. As a result, at this stage of computer science's evolution, it seems appropriate to reflect on what we should learn about computing and how we can or should learn it. The key, says Cerf, is to make computer science a core science along the lines of other STEM disciplines so that even people who have no intention of entering the field have some idea of programming, operating systems and networks.
Among the initiatives that ACM has been pursuing is to make computer science accepted as a core science along with mathematics, physics, biology, and chemistry. This is especially critical in secondary schools where, with few exceptions, computing classes tend to be optional. In many advanced programs, it is a requirement to have a certain number of credits in science, for example. It is ACM's position that computer science should have equal standing. Moreover, the curriculum should include some serious exposure to programming, systems, languages, and computer architecture. The idea is not necessarily to turn students into professional computer engineers and scientists, but to expose them to the richness of computer science and to help them appreciate the potential nascent in computers and programmable systems. In many advanced programs, it is a requirement to have a certain number of credits in science. It is ACM's position that computer science should have equal standing.
Reforming K-12 education to incorporate serious computer science seems vital to producing an informed public that has a deeper appreciation for the power of computing than video games and social networking. There are, no doubt, countless opportunities for computing professionals to engage in this effort, by lending their support and time to the effort to reform K-12 curricula and to make visible to young people the excitement of discovering what computing can accomplish. The discipline of writing and debugging software, of creating simulations or interactive applications has the potential to draw many into the profession, and to provide others with a sense of the core role computing will play in the decades ahead.

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