With all the pressures on schools to increase basic literacy while adapting to new standards and tests, the implicit suggestion is that our schools should stick to teaching “the basics.”

New foundations for learning

Well, in the 21st century, teaching computer science doesn’t compete with the basics, it is one of the foundational basics. Two decades ago, Steve Jobs said, “computer science is a liberal art,” because “it teaches you how to think.” This was before broadband internet, social networking or smartphones. As we head into a future that will be shaped by drones, self-driving cars, or 3-D printing, computer science does more than help students develop algorithmic problem-solving skills, it’s critical for keeping up with change.

Every school teaches how plants make fruits from sunlight, or that water is H2O, or how a light bulb works. This knowledge is foundational, even for students who don’t plan to become botanists, chemists or electricians. Today, it’s equally foundational to teach students to design an algorithm, to make a simple app or how the internet works. Students can learn these basics as early as elementary school.

“...computer science does more than help students develop algorithmic problem-solving skills, it’s critical for keeping up with change.”

Teaching computer science

At a time when every industry struggles to adapt to the biggest technological revolution in human history, it’s not an option for schools to limit access to computer science. Last century, every school adapted to teach students the basics about how electricity works. Computer science is the electricity of this century.

Parents agree. A Gallup survey found that 9 out of 10 parents want their child to learn computer science in school, but only 1 in 4 schools teach computer programming.

These parents know that any field their children choose will change in the next decade, that technology moves faster than we can keep up. They don’t want their children to be unprepared.

Children agree, too

A survey by Change the Equation uncovered that high school students rank computer science among the subjects they like the most, far ahead of other math or science subjects and behind only the arts. At a time when educators worry that a culture of standardized testing may reduce an emphasis on the arts, students embrace the intrinsic creativity of computer science, because coding motivates students to use their imagination to create an app.

Because of this student demand, high schools that teach computer science see skyrocketing enrollment, making computer science the fastest-growing course of the 2010s. But the majority of U.S. schools still don’t teach this subject.

When 9 out of 10 parents want their children to study computer science, when students rate it among their favorite subjects behind only the arts, and when it leads to the best paying careers in the world, we shouldn’t be asking, “Does every student need to learn to code?” The real question we should ask is: “Why doesn’t every school teach computer science?”