Code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to computer science education, announced today that it has received $12 million in new donations from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, Infosys FoundationUSA, and others.
Founded in 2013 by twin brothers Hadi and Ali Partovi, Code.org has found many backers in Silicon Valley. Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook have each donated more than $10 million to Code.org since its inception.
In conjunction with the funding announcement, Code.org also highlighted a slew of new commitments from cities and states that have pledged to increase their investments in computer science education. Florida Governor Rick Scott’s (R) proposed 2018 state budget calls for a one-time $15 million investment to increase the opportunities for middle and high school students to learn computer science. Meanwhile, the state of Arkansas announced that it will be dedicating $500,000 to the creation of a first-of-its-kind stipend program for existing K-8 teachers in the state who are interested in receiving training to teach computer science. In 2015, Arkansas became the first state to pass a law requiring that all charter and public high schools offer computer science classes, and the state was cited by Hadi Partovi as one of the most progressive in terms of computer science education.
Code.org creates curriculums for K-12 computer science classes in school districts across the country and organizes the Hour of Code, an annual event that celebrates computer science. The event gets its name from an hour-long introduction to computer science class designed by Code.org.
In 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that there will be 1.4 million computer science-related jobs available in the U.S. by 2020 and only 400,000 graduates with computer science skills. As a result, calls for state governors and legislators to find ways to introduce more students to computer science at a young age have increased — particularly from the tech industry. Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that he thinks coding classes should be required in every public school, stating that “it’s the language that everyone needs, and not just for the computer scientists.”
Some economists argue that pushing for more coding classes only addresses one component of a broader shortage in tech skills. According to a recent report from the Brookings Institution, nearly two-thirds of new jobs created since 2010 can be classified as needing a “high” or “medium” number of digital skills to complete the job. Mark Muro, one of the study’s authors, told VentureBeat that in addition to teaching coding skills, states should consider how they can prepare their future workforce for a world in which they’ll be expected to have fluency in a range of office software programs, from Microsoft Office to Slack.
Hadi Partovi told VentureBeat in a phone interview that the nonprofit suggests states take three steps to increase students’ access to computer science classes. First, Code.org advocates that states set a date by which they will make computer science classes available in every public school. Second, Code.org calls for the creation of state standards that all computer science classes must adhere to. Finally, states should be willing to set aside state funding that can be used to retrain teachers who are interested in teaching computer science.
“We’re at the point where most states are coming around to realizing that…computer science is going to need to be part of the education curriculum, and really they’re all trying to figure out what’s the right way to get there,” Partovi told VentureBeat.
Partovi also stressed that in order to increase the number of female and minority students participating in computer science classes, high schools should allow computer science classes to count toward the credits required to graduate, rather than counting them as electives.