Technology February 26, 2020 Last updated March 13th, 2020 371 Reads share

How to Bridge the Teacher-Programmer Gap

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Lucrative doesn’t begin to describe the benefits of programmer jobs. But the shortage of resources to encourage students to enter the STEM world is staggering.

Stellar coders are in such high demand that they easily command astronomical salaries. Even younger technology experts fresh from their graduation ceremonies can glide into enviable positions where notoriously long days and tough work end in a tidy payoff.

This isn’t news, of course. It’s common knowledge for almost anyone — including educators. And there’s the irony: Despite programming’s lofty reputation, K-12 curricula in the United States hardly touch on computer science skills, and higher educational institutions rarely equip education students to teach these in-demand skills.

How Did Current Technologists Earn Their Chops, Then?

StackOverflow’s 2019 survey of developers notes that it’s not uncommon to find professional developers who haven’t completed a degree, and around 4 in 10 developers have a degree in a discipline other than computer science. Often, those interested in technology are actually left to teach themselves, and this is hardly the most effective or consistent method for producing future STEM superstars.

Although self-teaching can work, it furthers the notion that programmers are somehow individualistic renegades who don’t need anyone else — including formal systems — to survive and thrive.

The tech world’s soft-skills gap certainly exists. However, the truth is that today’s programmers aren’t all lone wolves. Many would make great mentors and teachers for up-and-coming tech talent, but they need to understand how to best share their know-how. This tends to happen when they teach students directly rather than leaving them alone to bask in the glow of a laptop screen.

Why Does the Classroom’s Tech Gap Exist?

Microsoft and YouGov analyzed this rift not long ago. According to their research, nearly half of today’s educators report being overwhelmed by their current teaching duties or feeling underqualified to teach coding or other digital skills. Besides this, 59% told researchers that the schools they serve give no nod to computer science at all. In other words, if 10 teachers wanted to train kids on programming, around six out of them would be out of luck unless they could convince the administration to add another elective.

Adding to these significant barriers, K-12 institutions and colleges don’t always have the budget to teach educators programming skills, and tech training programs can be prohibitively expensive for less-affluent schools. Of course, there are nontraditional coding programs where teachers can learn, but convincing already overwhelmed professionals to acquire and teach those skills is a tough sell. And unless current coders experience career burnout or have an underlying passion for education, they might not have the time or ambition to train others. Not to mention that they might not want to take a salary cut in the tens of thousands to move to a classroom setting.

Operational problems also tend to keep schools from molding their curricula to modern standards. As a coding curriculum developer, I know firsthand how quickly an employer needs a shift in the tech world. It’s unrealistic to think K-12 schools could keep up without partnering with another organization — one that provides school staff access to relevant code studios, curricula, and other resources.

Drawing Programmers to the Classroom

Does this sound like a losing battle? Don’t jump to conclusions just yet: The chasm between the lack of coding training and the enormous modern need for it might be yawning, but it’s hardly unbridgeable. After all, with training programs such as Code.org already prepping more than one million new teachers to share computer science knowledge with K-12 students, we’re starting to close the classroom tech gap. We just have to take a few additional measures to patch up the remaining holes.

Regardless, we should also work toward a world where technologists find it as rewarding to migrate between coding and actively teaching as they do hopping from startup to startup. Training more educators to become programmers could provide a solid starting point, but we also need current tech professionals to engage with students in the classroom. After all, these are the people best positioned to show learners what working with technology is really like — and to help them keep up with the demanding, fast-changing nature of programming itself.

Here’s How We Can Nudge Developers to Pass Their Skills on in the Classroom:

1. Build irresistible conduits between tech companies and education systems

Again, both public and private educational institutions often lack the funding to equip educators on all things computer science.

However, some tech companies have money set aside to encourage programmers to visit the classroom — and this makes sense, considering such companies will experience the greatest impact from the ever-widening tech talent gap. This approach would involve a shift in thinking from the education employer’s perspective, as most programmers who spend time teaching in K-12 classrooms do so voluntarily. By paying coders to go into elementary, middle, and high schools to train educators or kids, though, technology giants can play a pivotal part in ensuring eventual job applicants understand their business.

Microsoft’s Technology Education and Literacy in Schools program already does this to a certain extent. However, its programmers must volunteer time — which isn’t always reasonable or doable given programmers’ busy schedules. It’s certainly philanthropic, but coding professionals might not be as willing to spend precious time off in a classroom. On the other hand, if they were paid for their efforts or received volunteer time off as a perk from employers, they might have a stronger incentive to engage with schools.

2. Appeal to developers’ ideals and show them the way

Despite the stereotype of the introverted coder, computing professionals are a surprisingly communal bunch. They’re also idealistic and strongly believe in the transformative power of technology. At the same time, they realize the shortcomings of the traditional computer science educational pipeline, or lack thereof.

The first step toward getting developers to raise their hands and help build bridges between educational systems and tech roles is to appeal to those intrinsic values. Computer science education has the opportunity to break down social barriers; after all, it provides tremendous opportunities to those who might otherwise be left behind.

Many programmers can get behind the idea of becoming change-makers. They just have to understand the personal benefits and ripple effects that come from educating students or training teachers. Once they begin to see themselves in this new light and help mentees gain confidence, they’ll get hooked on teaching others.

As a field, computer science will only continue to lead the way into tomorrow. Instead of forcing young people to figure out programming on their own or giving teachers an inadequate amount of training to pass along to pupils, we need to explore innovative options today. Not only will our society reap the advantages, but we’ll position up-and-coming generations to take the lead in the tech development sphere of the future.

Do you have ideas for how to bridge the teacher-programmer gap today? Let us know in the comments!

computer programmer – DepositPhotos

Chris Bay

Chris Bay

Chris Bay is the vice president of education and technology for LaunchCode, a nonprofit organization aiming to fill the gap in tech talent by matching companies with trained individuals. As one of the winners of the 2017 MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge, LaunchCode has been recognized for expanding “the tech workforce by providing free coding education to disadvantaged job seekers.” In his current role, Chris oversees the development and strategic direction of LaunchCode’s education programs and technical systems. Previously, Chris was chief content officer at KDHX Community Media and a senior analyst and developer at AT&T. He is based in St. Louis.

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