In this technological world, the need for computer skills is more relevant than ever and yet, the state Education Department has not set in place a computer science core curriculum.
“I’ve spent the better part of 20 years trying to build a computer science program and we’ve been fairly successful,” Michael Zamansky, a teacher a Stuyvesant High School in Mahattan, said. “One of the things we’ve found is that if you expose kids to computer science and modern technology, they will eat it up.”
Zamansky, who is also the president of Computer Science and Technology for Urban Youth, a nonprofit that teaches information technology to city kids, has created one of the only computer science programs in the entire state but it has been an uphill battle.
“Schools don’t have the incentive to bring computer science to the school and even if they do want to do it, they’re bound by the classes the kids need to graduate,” he said. “They are less likely to use part of their budget for computer science when they may need that money for some other graduation requirement.”
Though many, including Zamansky, have tried to get the SED to include computer science in the core curriculum, legislation has been drawn up by former deputy public advocate and current public advocate candidate Reshma Saujani and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D- Forest Hills) that would support computer science in schools.
“This is really all Reshma’s idea,” Hevesi said. “I will be introducing it but it’s all because of her.”
At a press conference at Forest Hills High School announcing the bill, Saujani, Hevesi, Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D- Jackson Heights), Zamansky, Founder of Coalition for Queens Jukay Hsu and State Committeeman and Community Board 11 Youth Services Chairman Ted Teng each spoke on the benefits that computer science can bring to the schools.
“Recognizing technology as a field that has the same footing as mathematics or English is so important, especially in New York with this technology-based economy. There are a lot of talented kids in the city that are meant to do this just like there are some kids who are born to be advertisers, doctors, etc. There are kids who are born to be computer scientists and techologists throughout the city but are just not given the opportunity.”
Even in fields where computer programming may not seem vital, there can be a benefit.
“If you’re a reporter and you are working in Google Docs or Excel or wherever and you are finding it difficult to navigate, you can develop a simple script that will let you see the information in a way that makes it easier for you,” Zamansky said. “Not everyone is going to use trigonometry or physics when they get older but almost everyone can use a little bit of computer science. It’s something that can be utilized in so many different ways.”
Though Saujani and other attendees were excited about the bill, changing core curriculum requirements is difficult.
Saujani, who founded Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that teaches urban girls how to program, said it is essential that computer science is brought to the masses.
“I have worked with girls who, when they started, didn’t know how to use a mouse properly but are now creating websites and teaching their parents how to work computers,” she said. “It is essential.”
The two bills that will be introduced to the state Assembly are almost identical. The only difference is, one applies to middle school and high school while the other would introduce a curriculum requirement in all SUNY and CUNY schools. .
“I want to ensure that every kid has the opportunity to learn about computer science,” Zamansky said. “I could be working for a major software company or at a private school but I choose to work in a public school because I believe that every kid, no matter their financial situation is entitled to learn these things if they want to.”
As the Assembly and Senate have recessed for the summer, the computer science bills will not be reviewed and voted on until the fall at the earliest.
“Curriculum is never, ever, ever changed by law,” Hevesi said. “We have built a large coalition already though.”