Should Computer Science Be Required in High School?

  • George Platanitis
  • August 5, 2015

Apple II DesktopI can easily recall my first exposure to computers. I was a public school student in the early ‘80s, and our school had just procured an Apple II desktop for the library with a monochrome (green) monitor, and 5.5-inch disks for storage read by an external drive. The device was such a novelty at the time, with every student wanting to try it out. Since then, much has developed in computing technology – portability, speed, screen resolution, and disk storage space, just to name a few aspects – reaching a point where our lives have become almost unavoidably dependent on it. Fast-forward to my time at high school, where one of the credit requirements was a course in either Business or Technology: the latter could be satisfied by a course in Keyboarding/Computers, or Metal shop/Wood shop, among the offerings available at the time.

Learning Computer Science in SchoolToday, post-secondary students are growing up around all types of computing technology, and requiring that students take a course in computer science early in their high school life would be beneficial. That is not to say that everyone who takes the course will go on to enter technical fields such as engineering, IT, or software development (although such a course could have the side-effect of stimulating more interest), but a computer science course has the potential to introduce students to various aspects of computer functionality that they might not otherwise see on their own. Students could be introduced to advanced functions of software such as Office (presuming that they enter the course already knowing the basics), computer programming, some basic maintenance features, and be given an introductory “behind-the-scenes” look at how the computer functions (including the electronics and logic circuitry).

Problems on ChalkboardCertainly once such topics are introduced, the course should then proceed to have students solve various problems in math, science, business, etc., as taken from courses of which they would be familiar with the material up to that point. Before using the computer, students would first sketch out the approach, identifying the variables needed to solve the problem (which variables are defined and which ones are to be solved for), the necessary conditions and constraints, and then working through the logic and decision process to get to the desired answer. They can also learn how to approach a larger problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable blocks, and then set up the computer program, spreadsheet, or whichever tool is relevant for the particular problem. Beyond high school, use of the computer obviously does not stop, and at the post-secondary stage, there are benefits. Students enter university or college with the computing knowledge base already at hand and are better prepared to tackle the more advanced problems they would see at this level. From the university’s perspective, having students enter post-secondary education already having knowledge in basic computing science may relieve the need for a rudimentary or introductory course in computers. Students can jump into more advanced computing courses earlier. Professors can then further take advantage of students’ early knowledge base to enhance their own curricula with more engaging applications in terms of computer-aided modelling of problems and their solutions.

The topics as described previously are a small number of suggestions as to what a mandatory, high school level computer science course could entail, and that could help build a case for making such course mandatory. With computers inevitably a part of our daily lives today, and with students being regularly required to submit homework using a computer (word processed, with graphics embedded in documents, etc., along with online submission channels available), a mandatory computer science course in high school would definitely provide students with that expanded usefulness of the machine, allowing them to get more out of their software and applications.

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions presented in this blog post are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Aversan Inc.

About the Author

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Dr. George Platanitis has a Ph.D in Aerospace Engineering from Texas A&M University, an M.S. in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics from University of Minnesota, and a B.S. in Engineering Physics from Queen’s University. His experiences include the areas of dynamics, control, aeroelasticity, and reliability. He is currently at Thales Canada Transport Solutions Inc. as a member of the RAM team. Outside of engineering, George’s interests include playing recreational hockey, and he has a passion for Salsa dancing.

 

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