We must bridge the computer science gap in education

Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with high school students to do an “Hour of Code” with them. The Hour of Code event has exposed more than 13 million students to computer science as part of Computer Science Education Week, where students learn basic coding skills as well as logic and mathematical thinking that will empower them regardless of which educational path they choose.

I would never expect every student who participated in the Hour of Code to suddenly become a programmer, but providing students with a myriad of opportunities allows them to find and blaze their own trails. Letting students uncover a diverse array of opportunities helps to ensure that each and every child has a chance to be successful.

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We have heard the statistics: the United States is not producing computer scientists at the rate required. Code.org cites 1 million more computer science jobs than graduates in the next 10 years. Just as disturbing to me are the extremely low participation rates of women and communities of color in computer science. We have a harmful deficit in our education-to-occupation science pipeline when just 15 percent of advanced placement computer science students are female, and a shockingly low 8 percent are Hispanic or African-American.

There are organizations working diligently to expose our students, particularly girls and underrepresented minorities, to computer science.

Code.org, the nonprofit organization that built the Computer Science Education Week movement, has led the way in encouraging students who might have never considered coding as an option. Girls Who Code, an education organization founded by businesswoman Reshma Saujani, has been a champion for providing young women with powerful, extended-time opportunities to become part of the computing community. There are others, including a partnership between the Entertainment Software Association and the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, that provides fellowships to students who create games and apps for social change.

As a congressman representing Silicon Valley and a former educator, I advocated for several pieces of legislation that will improve our computer science education efforts. I am a proud original co-sponsor of the bipartisan Computer Science Education Act, which will deem computer science a core subject under future federal education legislation. In October, I introduced the Tech-Enabled Innovation Partnerships Grant Act, which, when passed, will create grants for school districts to pursue innovative uses of technology in the classroom. Providing researched-based methodologies to teachers in the field is vitally important to the education system. 

I am also an original co-sponsor of the recently introduced STEM Gateways Act, along with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), which will provide opportunities for girls and underrepresented minorities to explore the possibilities that arise from science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) studies. 

Computer science education is vital to the economic stability of the United States. We must, however, ensure that all children, according to their needs, receive an equitable opportunity to achieve.

Honda has represented congressional districts in California’s Silicon Valley since 2001. He sits on the Appropriations Committee.