Alabama found lacking in computer science students - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Alabama found lacking in computer science students

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BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -

With more job opportunities than any other college major these days, computer science is hot. The Bureau of Labor says there will be up to 800,000 new jobs in this area by 2020. So, why are fewer than 100 students in Alabama learning about this field?

"I'm always surprised that we have to go out and advocate for computer science education," computer science teacher, Carol Yarbrough said.

Whether it makes sense or not the computer science industry is in need of some good publicity. And who better to be the face of it than a Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and a few of their very successful friends. They are a part of a short film on the site code.org. It's advocating the need for computer programming education specifically teaching high school students how to write code.

"We heard there was a lot of folks in industry putting an effort to raise the awareness of computing," University of Alabama professor, Jeff Gray, said.

So far, nearly 700,000 thousand people have signed a petition on the site promoting computing. Ten thousand of those are from Alabama. Gray says our state still has a way to go. Currently, few schools in Alabama offer an AP computer science class, which is the only type of computer science course available in our state.

"Currently in Alabama, we are not doing a great job at this. We only have a handful of schools that can teach the current AP exam," Gray said.

Payton Walker took the class and exam when he was in the 10th grade. Now as a senior at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, he says his life would have been much different without computer science.

"I would have been really bored. Computer science was one of those classes I was always really excited to go." Walker said.

But Gray realizes that the way Walker learned to code, in a language called Java, can be overwhelming. That is why, with the help of a $1-million grant, he is working to bring a more user friendly AP exam to Alabama high schools.

"With this new exam we are hoping Alabama will lead the nation in participation because we will have an army of teachers that will help bring this new knowledge to our students," Gray said.

 

Right now, less than 100 students are taking computer science in Alabama. Gray hopes to change that a new AP science exam where students will learn how to code using a smart phone.

Yarbrough is piloting the new AP exam course at ASFA.

"It focuses on ideas like computing is all about creativity," Yarbrough said.

Students learn to invent android apps; simple games and quiz reviews for tests in other classes.

"That's a fun introduction. They can be real creative," Yarbrough said.

She says it is not just students interested in math and science who are in the class. Gray says it is a good thing since there are more jobs in the computer science field than students to fill them.

"Cummings Research Park is the 2nd largest in the United States, here in our backyard, but we are not providing educational pathways for our students to take on those opportunities," Gray said.

A problem even the head of Facebook is having to deal with and hoping to change.

"Our policy is to hire as many talented engineers as we can find. The whole limit in the system is that there just aren't enough people that are trained and have these skills today," Mark Zuckerberg said.

Copyright 2013 WBRC. All rights reserved.

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