3 Reasons Students Aren’t Into Computer Science—Yet

Student Voice

3 Reasons Students Aren’t Into Computer Science—Yet

By Jaime Perez     Dec 15, 2018

3 Reasons Students Aren’t Into Computer Science—Yet

I attended Everest Public High School in Redwood City, Calif., and during the years that I was in high school, never once did I hear about computer science, coding or hackathons. To this day, I still do not have a clear idea of what those phrases really mean.

However, I am not the only one who seems to be in the dark. So many students go through their entire high school career without being exposed to computer science—a rapidly growing field of study that is an important key to opening doors to jobs at tech giants like Google, Apple and Facebook. And ever since I started interning with the Code Next team at Google this past summer, I became even more curious to understand: Why aren’t students into computer science?

Statistics show that “computer science” programs produce fewer bachelor’s degree graduates in the U.S. when compared with other STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) majors, as can be seen in the image below. For several years now, researchers have been conducting studies to find the relationship between students and their relatively low interest in computer science. As a current college student myself, I’ve spent the past few weeks having conversations with professionals who work for Google, high school students who are pursuing an interest in computer science and mentors who desire to guide students to success in the field. Through my own research, I have isolated three reasons as to why students are not interested in computer science (CS).

Data via National Center for Education Statistics, danwang.co

Lack of Exposure

Throughout middle school and high school, I was never exposed to CS, which I believe is a big reason as to why I never developed an interest in the subject. That doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be codified into the curriculum. Exposure can mean lots of things. A 2018 study, which looked at the factors that influence students to pursue CS degrees in higher education found that, “School education appeared to have limited influence on students’ decision to study CS, though exposure to problem solving, programming, online self-learning and internships appeared to be important positive influences.”

This research paralleled very closely with the interviews I conducted with incoming ninth graders who will be attending the Code Next program this fall. During the interviews, students who had already been exposed to CS activities were much more enthusiastic and excited about the program than students who hadn’t been exposed to CS before. According to Orvil Escalante, an incoming student: “Once I was taught how to use the tools to create designs and prints of my own, I really began to find interest in CS.”

Support is Key

Support from family, friends, teachers and mentors is crucial to a student’s success in CS, according to several students interviewed in that same study referenced above. Take the following quotes from two of the study’s subjects:

  • “One of my dad's friends, I went to talk to before the university, because he actually works in … Computer Engineering.”
  • “I have quite a few friends who study and work in computer-related subjects. They told me about what they were learning, so I want to do that.”

Similarly, Greily, a Code Next student in New York, said that she heard about the program from a teacher who helped her through the entire application process. Once Greily got into the program with the help of her teacher, she received a lot of support from the coaches she worked with.

She explains: “The coaches really push you to do your best because they believe that you can do great work, and the fact that the coaches come from a similar background as me, really inspires me to pursue a career in CS.”

Social Factors

In today’s world, students are exposed to an infinite number of hobbies and activities, making it extremely difficult for a student to focus on one thing. I think of my own friends—whether it is playing Fortnite online, looking at other people’s lives on social media or watching videos made by their favorite YouTubers, teens are always performing social activities in technological environments.

But despite that comfort with technology, some research shows that many students think of computer science as an activity where one sits in front of a computer screen all day in the darkness, typing away—without any engagement. For example, one student told the authors, “I don’t think I could do that, sitting in front of a screen all day, just looking at the typed stuff,” while another responded, “I’m more of a people person.”

Clearly, there is a disconnect. Students need to have CS explained to them in a way that will relate with their passions and interests, rather than listening to a presentation about circuit boards and coding languages. But that is not the only component necessary for engaging students. They also need the access and opportunity to CS equipment in order to develop first-hand experiences with CS projects that will give them the skill-sets they need to increase their engagement and level of interest in CS.

There’s also a problem of perception—which can be solved by getting students to think about CS differently. Many of the students that did not find CS interesting in research studies stated perceived CS as sitting in front of a computer typing all day. However, those who said they found the field interesting were more likely to see it as a creative one. These students found that CS is a way to express their feelings and ideas through code.

Additionally, mentorship is crucial to the success of a student pursuing roles in the tech world. Denzale Reese, a coach for Code Next Oakland, explains that “mentorship can allow the student to expand their network and create connections that will lead them to their future job.”

CS is certainly a creative field. Now it’s up to us to get creative in supporting kids to pursue it.

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