Recently, in a weekly video address, President Obama made a compelling case for computing education across the complete educational lifecycle, announcing an initiative he entitled, “Computer Science for All.” This proposal marks a welcome national focus on the importance of computing literacy alongside the traditional three Rs.

I would like to widen the lens, however, to put a spotlight on the breadth of topics related to computational thinking and the importance not just of teaching coding, but of educating people of all ages in a broad range of related skill and knowledge areas, a strategy we might call “Information Literacies for All.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 5.16.23 PMThe Computer Science for All Initiative includes proposals for grant funding that would go directly to school districts and additional research monies for the National Science Foundation. By far the largest chunk of support would go to the federal Department of Education, which would distribute $4B to states that submitted competitive five-year plans to integrate Computer Science into the K-12 classroom.

There is much to recommend this approach: while nine out of ten parents want their children to learn computer science in school, only about a quarter of school districts offer any coursework in this area.

Yet there is a danger in focusing these efforts primarily on teaching students the syntax of a programming language, a possibility that mirrors the ongoing calculus conundrum in math education. Over recent decades, a variety of educational researchers and other opinion leaders have concluded that K-12 math education should contain more emphasis on statistics and less on calculus because of the broader applicability of statistical reasoning in everyday life and most non-engineering careers.

Despite this realization, calculus still rules the roost in high school mathematics thanks to inertia and entrenched interests. In focusing too narrowly on programming language acquisition, the Computer Science for All Initiative risks making a parallel error.

As an alternative approach, imagine an Information Literacies for All initiative that includes learning opportunities in the areas of computational thinking, design thinking and digital design, systems thinking and analysis, human-computer interaction (HCI), metadata, data science, game theory, probability, and statistics. This broader approach would focus on practical problem solving using information and technology tools, with coding as one problem-solving option in a larger toolkit of talents.

Read the rest of Jeff Stanton’s post on LinkedIn →