Most jobs in the future will require some fundamental understanding of how computing works, and many of the best opportunities will be under the broad heading of computer science. Most Maine students, however, will graduate without ever taking a course on the subject, or even seeing it among their choices.

If computer science is the wave of the future, Maine is struggling in the surf. We need to get above water.

In the United States, there are half a million open positions in computer science — three jobs for every graduate in the field. In Maine, there are more than 1,000 open positions, with an average salary exceeding $75,000 a year. Nationwide, computing jobs are the No. 1 source of new wages.

There are Maine students who could find success in those positions but may never get the chance. If the first time a student is offered computer science is in college, then it’s often too late — they need a taste of it earlier in order to recognize their own talent and build their interest.

However, fewer than 30 percent of Maine schools offer computer science, according to Computer Science for Maine, or CS4Maine, a statewide coalition of businesses, schools and other education advocates. Only 30 high schools offer Advanced Placement computer science.

Overall, Maine is one of just six states that hasn’t followed any of the nine recommendations for creating and supporting rigourous K-12 computer science education, as put forth by the Code.org Advocacy Coalition.

Simply put, Maine is far behind in one crucial aspect of 21st-century education and economic development. Last week, CS4Maine, through a series of recommendations, showed how we can catch up.

The recommendations closely follow those from Code.org as well as from a task force created by the 128th Legislature.

CS4Maine’s ultimately goal is to have a computer science course in all high schools by 2022 and expand learning opportunities through all grades by 2025.

Computer science should count as a graduation requirement for all high schools, they argue, and be a core admission requirement for all colleges and universities.

The recommendations build capacity by working backwards. If we need more graduates with computer science degrees, then we need more college courses, as well as professors to teach them and students to take them. That, in turn, means we need more students who are exposed to computer science before they get to college.

Ultimately, that will require the creation of appropriate standards for K-12 computer science education, implemented as part of a broader statewide plan to increase access up and down the line.

This is where Gov.-elect Janet Mills comes in. Mills should direct the Department of Education to assign a staff member specifically to computer science to oversee the creation and implementation of the statewide plan, and to communicate with school districts that have questions on expanding programs locally.

Under Gov. Paul LePage, the Department of Education didn’t show a lot of enthusiasm for expanding computer science education, and that is part of the reason Maine’s behind. A new administration should mean a more aggressive approach.

Computer science is fast becoming essential. It’s time Maine treats it that way.


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