It is often said that education is the great equalizer.  And though the world looks much different today than when Horace Mann famously said those words, they are still applicable, particularly with computer science education in our technology-driven world. 

This year’s National Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 5-11, 2016) is an opportunity for all students, parents, and teachers to see how fun and easy coding can be with the Hour of Code.

Microsoft is excited to unveil a revamped tutorial based on the highly-popular Minecraft game. Minecraft Hour of Code Designer is a hands-on tool that introduces players to coding in a fun, simple environment, guided by videos.  It allows players to create their own custom game experience plugging together blocks of code to control sheep, zombies, and other creatures in the Minecraft world.  We are partnering with the non-profit to launch this tutorial and believe it will help students be creators of technology, not just users of it.

Last year’s Minecraft tutorial set a record with more than 30 million people worldwide using it to learn basic computing skills.  This year, we hope to reach tens of millions more and to expand the audience. 

Microsoft is passionate about ensuring every young person has access to computer science education because it offers so much more than technical know-how.  It also provides problem-solving and critical thinking skills required in the modern workplace.  We want kids to be creators of technology, not just users, and these skills set them on the right path.

Jobs across nearly every industry require a basic understanding of computing.  Nationwide, there are more than 500,000 computing jobs available and by 2020, that number is expected to climb to 1.4 million jobs. 

Despite this opportunity, too few students in K-12 are exposed to computer science education and only two-thirds of high schools even offer it.  Moreover, only 33 states allow students to count computer science courses toward high school graduation. We must make every effort to increase the computer science pipeline to drive innovation.

We’re working on several fronts to change these statistics.

In addition to the Minecraft Hour of Code, Microsoft offers an innovative program nationwide throughout the school year. TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) pairs technology professionals with teachers in areas of the country that may not provide training in schools.  TEALS currently serves 225 schools across 25 states and the District of Columbia.

In Rhode Island, I recently visited a TEALS class with Gov. Gina Raimondo.  This classroom is part of CS4RI, a statewide effort to have computer science taught in every public school by December 2017. I was blown away by the students’ enthusiasm.  And I was encouraged that CR4RI is working: More than half of Rhode Island schools already have a program, putting them ahead of schedule!

Similar progress is underway in Arkansas, where Gov. Asa Hutchinson set a four-year goal of seeing at least 6,000 high school students enrolled in a computer science course each year.  The governor recently announced a dramatic increase in the number of high school students enrolled in classes.

On the federal level, Microsoft is a founding member of the Computer Science Education Coalition — a group of over 115 business leaders and NGOs that have come together to secure federal funding for computer science education this year.  Since the coalition’s formation this past March, there has been growing bi-partisan support for K-12 computer science education on Capitol Hill and the coalition continues to push for dedicated federal funding for this critical subject this year.

Taken together, these efforts will increase access to computer science education, giving students the skills they need.  We’re excited by this progress and the potential it holds.  That’s why we’re encouraging all students, parents, and teachers to complete an Hour of Code this National Computer Science Education Week and join in this movement.

Fred Humphries, Corporate Vice President, U.S. Government Affairs at Microsoft

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.