What does it mean to reach “all” in #CS4All? Qualify your Quantifiers | blog@CACM

April 29, 2016 at 8:32 am 4 comments

I’ve raised the concern before that the CS for All effort might mean “CS for only the rich” (see post here). Our data from Georgia suggest that few students are actually getting access to CS education, even if there is a CS teacher in the school (see post here).  Kathi Fisler, Shriram Krishnamurthi, and Emmanuel Schanzer offer a Blog@CACM post where they consider how we make sure that #CS4All is equitable.

Mandating every child take a computing class is a great way to ensure everyone takes CS, but very few states, cities, or even school districts are in a position to hire enough dedicated CS teachers or offer dedicated CS classes to reach every child. Recent declarations from several major districts that “every child will learn to code” often place impossible burdens on schools. Similarly, few schools can afford to offer CS programs that require cutting-edge computers, expensive consumables, or technology that requires significant maintenance.

To truly achieve CS4All Students in a sustainable way, equity and scale are issues that must be built in by design. Similarly, initiatives have to think about differently-abled users from scratch, not just bolt them on as an afterthought. Accessibility needs to be designed into software, curriculum, and pedagogy from the earliest stages.

The “move fast and break things” culture of computing is no help here. Right now, computing education has enormous attention. That day will pass. By the time we get around to focusing on equity, we may have depleted the energy left to overhaul computing curricula. Instead, we have to think this through at the very outset. Another computing principle is that products typically get one shot at gaining users’ attention. For the foreseeable future, this is that one shot for computing education.

Source: Qualify your Quantifiers | blog@CACM | Communications of the ACM

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. gflint  |  April 29, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    This is a fairly interesting read. I teach CS/programming and I do not believe everyone should take CS. It is kind of like should every one take auto shop or wood working or calculus? I do believe everyone should have the opportunity to take CS which the US is a long way from getting to but make kids take it? No way. And the “require cutting-edge computers, expensive consumables, or technology that requires significant maintenance.” has me confused. What the heck are they planning to teach? A good high school CS program requires none of those. Tech support can sometimes be an issue but if a teacher is given the flexibility to work on their own computers that can be reduced. And what are the “expensive consumables”? Maybe some one made the mistake of thinking 3d printing is part of CS. There are so many resources out there for free hardware and software that offering an affordable CS program can be reduced to finding a qualified teacher (not easy and not free) and time on the student’s schedule (ever harder to find).

  • 2. Emmanuel Schanzer  |  April 29, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    Hi Garth, thanks for asking these questions! I’m one of the authors on the post, so I’ll take a crack at answering them:

    For many people, makerspaces (and yes, 3d printers) are a part of their definition of Computer Science. I’m actually leaving a conference *right now* where makerspaces were a big part of the CS Education discussion. I think a lot of people would say that robotics and arduino belong as part of CS, and those don’t come cheap when it comes to school wide scale.

    As for tech support – many popular tools still require teachers to download and install software (Alice and VisualStudio, just to name two). This almost always results in a call to IT, since teachers rarely have the ability to install arbitrary programs. And none of this even touches the hoops that software needs to jump through just to pass whatever privacy policies the district has in place!

    • 3. gflint  |  April 30, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      I see this as sort of a philosophical difference in the goal of CS education. Many schools want to do a lot of gee-wiz things, Makerspace, robotics and so on, which does make CS expensive. School admins look at this and say “no way”. I am at a very poor private school (they do exist) and I operate on a $0 CS budget. My computers come from the State recycle warehouse, all my CS/programming software is free stuff, for all of my classes I have managed to find free resources or textbooks. I am the IT guy at my school so I do not have the tech support issues that the public schools have but with the proper professional development and training CS teachers could do their own limited tech support. In order to get CS into schools we have to present it as a very low budget addition to the curriculum. Schools that do not have CS are not going to pick it up if it costs an arm and a leg. The only cost to the school should be an ambitions teacher that is willing to dig and innovate. A teacher, a room, some old computers and some kids are all that is needed for a good CS program to get started. Everything else is gravy. We simply cannot drop a bomb on the school budget and say we need this and this and this to get a CS programming going. If the initial outlay is not cheap, it is not going to happen.

      I live in Montana so I do not have a lot of people to discuss topics like this with. It is good to discuss things like this with people that have seen the bigger world.

  • […] is what the Bootstrap group has been arguing from a STEM discipline and economics perspective (see blog post). I’ve also been concerned that we’re biased by the Inverse Lake Wobegone Effect and […]


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