The number of high school students completing computer science courses steadily increased between 2009 – 19, according to University of Alberta research.
Using high school course completion data from Alberta Education, researchers found that computer science education completion had an annual average growth rate of 33.5 per cent. They also found that computer science education in urban areas grew faster than in rural areas.
According to the lead researcher and post-doctoral student in educational technology, Quinn McCashin, there is a limited number of subject-specialized teachers. This makes growing computer science education in rural areas a challenge.
Computer science is currently a career and technology specialization offered by the faculty of education. According to McCashin, this is an important step toward increasing the accessibility of computer science education to rural populations. Currently, there are not enough computer science teachers graduating, and the ones that are, are not moving to the rural areas, McCashin said.
McCashin suggests incorporating computer science curriculum in elementary school
According to the study, computer science education growth has been similar for both male and female students. However, just under 14 per cent of computer science course completion was by female students between 2009-19.
To encourage equal gender representation in computer science, McCashin suggests incorporating a computer science curriculum in early elementary school. He thinks this can reduce social stigma and related stereotypes. Moreover, emphasizing computer science education as a form of essential literacy and numeracy skill can increase the likelihood of students studying computer science in the future, McCashin said.
“The hope is that with the introduction of [an] earlier curriculum, we can get around some of those issues by having earlier exposure to computer science as a subject area. Then, those stereotypes won’t exist by the time kids get to actually choose their areas for future study.”
“Oftentimes the understanding that’s gained by doing something like a game project can be much deeper,” McCashin says
Additionally, McCashin thinks educators can further support student interest by integrating computer science across different subjects. McCashin said elementary students could use the programming website Scratch for science or English projects.
“Oftentimes the understanding that’s gained by doing something like a game project can be much deeper,” he said.
Although computer science is currently an optional course in Alberta high schools, enrolment in computer science did not drop during the COVID-19 pandemic. This finding surprised McCashin, given that students were encouraged to focus on core subjects more during the pandemic.
McCashin hopes his research can help Alberta educators increase the accessibility and growth of computer science education. He anticipates that this research can help school administrators recognize the value of starting computer science programs. And consequently encourage them to hire teachers with the relevant training.
As part of his PhD, McCashin is planning an implementation project for junior high science classes.
“I want to actually go into a science classroom, have the students learn how to use Scratch, and make a simulation on the subject.”