URBANA — Despite the state’s efforts to advance computer science education, there are still many unanswered questions about just what a K-12 curriculum would look like.
That’s why more than 200 high school computer science teachers, tech leaders and field advocates gathered Friday at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications on the University of Illinois campus for the first-ever statewide K-12 Computer Science Education Summit.
The summit is another step in the state’s recent push to teach students basic computer science applications as it attempts to keep well-paying jobs in the growing tech sector in the state.
Launched in December 2014, Computer Science for All at Chicago Public Schools — a program that would require credits in computer science for all high school graduates — was the first step in creating what UI President Tim Killeen called a “bedrock of knowledge” that the state is currently lacking.
“These days, every company has to be a tech company,” Killeen said. “What we need today is motivated computer science teachers that can spark interest in our young students so they hit the ground running. They need to if Illinois is to thrive in the future.”
The dozens of participants that packed the NCSA auditorium Friday were tasked with a daylong mission to draft plans for implementing computer science education at a young age statewide, and report back to UI and state leaders who are ready to craft policy.
“The main in focus for all of us must be the state’s preparedness to lead in tech in the next few decades,” said UI Chancellor Robert Jones. “Long past are the days of computer science being an elective or an extracurricular activity. It’s now a ticket to full participation in the society of the future.”
Deputy Gov. Jesse Ruiz said the Pritzker administration’s plan to expand access to computer science programs across the state is a way to get more Illinois students to be a part of the future.
“Already, 1 out of 10 computer science degrees in the country comes from Illinois,” Ruiz said. “We’re only eclipsed by California. But the goal is to expand CS to all our public schools in the way that CS for all has been done at Chicago Public Schools. Gov. Pritzker is thrilled to expand access and be a part of this.”
But it’s not just about getting people interested in computer science. Brenda Darden Wilkerson, who has been instrumental in the Chicago Public Schools’ policy, said the state should also focus in closing the equity gap and get more female and people of color interested in computer science.
“The key here has to be equity and access,” Wilkerson said. “We need to stamp out the fear, because we may all agree here, but we’re going to go back to our schools and our communities and hear excuses. We need to stamp out the idea that there can be any more delay in making this happen.”