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10 things to know about the state of tech in education

The current state of tech and education is in flux. Here are 10 things to know about what's happening now.

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Image: Joel Levin

There's a difference between having computers in schools and teaching kids what to do with them.

Tech in education is facing several key challenges. As talk of the skills gap, and whether kids should be trained for jobs or broader skillsets like digital literacy gains steam, there are problems and solutions similarly gaining and losing ground. One point of consensus seems to be that there are going to be a lot of tech-based jobs in the future, and not enough people to fill them. And the education system needs to do a better job of stepping up to help groom more future tech workers.

Here are 10 things you should know about tech and education, and how folks are looking toward preparing kids for that future.

1. There aren't enough computer science teachers

While numbers vary from district to district, some schools struggle finding computer teachers. According to Crain's New York Business, for example, in New York City public schools, there are 75,000 teachers across roughly 800 middle and high schools, but fewer than 100 of them teach computer science. In this case, part of the reason is that the state doesn't recognize computer science as an official subject, which is a similar situation to what is happening on a national level — only 10% of high schools offer computer science as elective courses. Another thought is that computer science graduates are less likely to pursue teaching because they'll earn far less than if they went to work at a company.

2. The standards are spotty

The Association for Computing Machinery, the largest computing society in the US, according to NPR, released a study that found that only 14 states have adopted secondary school standards for computer science. The report also said that 14 states don't include an upper-level computer science course as part of their secondary school education standards.

3. Industry professionals are doing some teaching

In one of several instances of programming professionals helping get computer science in front of younger students, Microsoft started Teaching Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS), a program that recruits professionals and volunteer teachers at high schools that can't meet its computer science needs. Using team teaching, the volunteers also help educate the current teachers and eventually leave the classes in their hands. For the 2014-2015 school year, TEALS was in 131 schools with 490 volunteers.

4. Attracting diversity is a problem

According to a recent report from the National Science Foundation, as of 2010, women held 18.2% of computer science degrees. Barbara Ericson, director of computing outreach and a senior research scientist at Georgia Tech, compiled data from the College Board that showed that in 11 states, no black students or hispanics took the Advanced Placement computer science exam in 2013. Not a single girl in Montana, Wyoming, or Mississippi took the test, either.

5. More education is coming from outside schools

As only 10% of high schools offer elective computer science courses, according to Time, more programs like Code.org or Girl Develop It — just to name a few — are popping up and offering classes geared toward elementary, middle, and high school kids to help address the gap.

6. There are creativity and money addressing the issue

From the adoption of games and platforms like MinecraftEdu or MIT's Scratch in the classroom, there are inventive things happening to teach digital literacy. New York City, for example, announced in 2013 that it would make a $1 million investment in expanding computer science education, starting in the fall of 2014. The city of Chicago switched computer science from an elective to a "core subject" this year.

7. It's not just about learning to code

As technology continues to pervade most aspects of life, many of these programs aren't just about making sure kids can build software or a website. Many are spurred by the idea of digital literacy. Cornell University explains it like this: "Digital literacy is the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet."

8. Legislation helps, sometimes

As recently as September 2014, California passed a bill calling for the creation of guidelines for computer science courses in high school that would align them with undergraduate requirements from colleges in California.

9. The US government sees it like this

The US Department of Education's website sets up the state of STEM education in the US like this: Only 16% of high school seniors are "proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career." Only about half of those who major in STEM fields in college actually work in those fields afterward.

10. Computer science isn't just for engineers anymore

The Harvard Crimson, Harvard's student newspaper, reported that 12% of undergraduates enrolled in Introduction to Computer Science I. That's about 818 undergraduate students this semester alone, and that's also a record high for the class and the school. The quoted the director of undergraduate studies for Computer Science, Harry Lewis as saying, "[Students] have figured out that in pretty much every area of study, computational methods and computational thinking are going to be important to the future."

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About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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