Buell, Emard: Summit can help make SC a leader in ‘real computer science’ education

November 4, 2013 

— If there’s one thing we should recently have learned, from the problems with the Healthcare.gov website, from the data breach at the state Department of Revenue, from the tens of millions of dollars in fines and penalties resulting from the inability of the Department of Social Services to create a unified system for monitoring child support, it is that computer software and electronic access to records are both central to modern life and hard to design, produce and manage.

This Friday and Saturday, IT-oLogy, together with the University of South Carolina, will host the Computing Education in South Carolina Summit. This event, funded in part with an Expanding Computing Education Pathways grant from the National Science Foundation, will provide outreach to policymakers in government and education about the importance of teaching “real computer science” in South Carolina and the fact that the state is not so far behind national leaders that it could not itself become a national leader.

The prediction is that three out of five job openings in the computer/information sciences, life/physical sciences, engineering and mathematics fields are asking for university degrees in computer science, and starting salaries nationally for computer science graduates are better than $60,000 a year. In spite of these inducements, enrollments in computer science are low, and the nation is producing only one-third of the university graduates in computer science as there are jobs available.

The goal of the summit is to show that South Carolina can lead in computer science education. We have a computer science graduation requirement already in place. Many students fulfill it with courses that require them merely to use computers, but there are efforts underway to provide real computer science education for S.C. students, using courses that have been successful in Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere.

The summit will bring to Columbia national leaders in computer science education who will talk about success elsewhere that can readily be duplicated here. Teaching real computer science in the schools is both economically important and entirely feasible.

The information technology profession includes not just those who work for companies that sell computer software and hardware, but the IT “business within a business” that manages e-commerce, customer relations, accounting and the range of business services necessary in the 21st century.

Information technology is one of the leading drivers of the national economy. Recent improvements in productivity have come more from software than from any other source, and the economic leverage (additional jobs generated) is greater from IT than from any other market segment.

We can benefit in South Carolina from an increased focus on computer science, starting with improvements in what we teach students in the K-12 system. We invite those with an interest in education, in economic development and in computing to attend the summit at IT-oLogy.

Duncan Buell

Professor, USC Computer Science and Engineering

Lonnie Emard

President, IT-oLogy

Columbia

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