Computer science careers are surprisingly diverse, and raising awareness of this could be key to improving enrolment figures, which have been in decline for almost a decade. Refraction Media reached out to students and educators to get to the heart of the matter…
Around 75% of fast-growing occupations will require STEM skills in the future. This estimate, originally published in a report by the Office of the Chief Scientist in 2013, becomes especially alarming, considering that enrolments in CS courses have been in decline for the greater part of the last 10 years, reaching a record low of 23,700 in 2009. Whereas Department of Education data shows enrolments are on the increase, growth is stagnant, especially compared to fields such as health and education.
In light of these findings, and after the success of Careers with Code magazine, which expanded to the US and New Zealand in 2016, Refraction Media decided to reach out to their community to look at how attitudes to computer science careers stand with educators and students.
In an online survey this month, we asked educators, students aged 13 to 19, parents and careers advisors for their opinion on the challenges and opportunities they see for the future of CS.
From CS + X to infinity! CS goes with anything…
Computer science careers are colourful! That was one of the key takeaways from the 70 respondents. “I didn’t know [computer scientists] can use software to save lives and eradicate diseases like Ebola,” says one student. And while health may be one career option, the beauty of CS + X – where “X” stands for any interest or passion – is that you can substitute “X” with practically anything.
“[Careers with Code] has been a great tool to provide students with concrete evidence of the broad spectrum that computers and coding entails. It shows so many avenues and careers that are reliant upon or have evolved from coding,” says one educator.
Seventy per cent of students who responded to the survey said that in reading Careers with Code, they would now want to take the “next step” in their CS education, such as enrolling in a CS course or degree, or joining a club.
Teaching educators about computer science careers
While the interdisciplinary nature of CS + X can present great opportunities, it’s also a challenge. Inspiring students to pursue a career in computer science by combining it with another interest of theirs (i.e. law, design or languages) may be a way to spark their passion for STEM. However, it will also be a challenge for schools and educators to stay up-to-date with career options, and to define a concrete way of integrating CS + X into the curriculum.
Of those educators surveyed, 29% see a lack of resources as the major hurdle – an equal proportion point to the difficulty of staying up-to-date with technological trends and developments. Students, however, are still turning to teachers and career counsellors as primary sources of information when making future careers decisions. Educating our educators in STEM careers, therefore, should be a major objective if we’re to provide clarity to students.
The majority of educators surveyed see the most pressing issue as students’ attitudes to computer science overall. The broad sentiment was that students “think they know it all”. Developing patience in students’ uptake of CS skills, as well as increasing their awareness of career options, is therefore key.
As the Digital technologies curriculum rolls out in the next year, it will be important to not just provide the right resources in the classroom, but to create an environment that generates and cultivates students’ interest in the field from an early age. Furthermore, teachers will need to effectively communicate the relevance of CS pathways to future careers.
In a rapidly changing landscape of career opportunities, finding the value of ‘X’ is no longer just an imperative within the classroom, but for society as a whole. What is required is an attitude shift –presenting the opportunities of CS in an educational, relevant, fun and age-appropriate way. To achieve this, schools, communities and influencers will ultimately have to work together to prepare students for the future ahead.
– Iliana Grosse-Buening, Refraction Intern