It's pretty unusual to see an issue supported by President Obama and House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor -- as well as Apple and Microsoft -- but they're all backing Hour of Code, which aims to get 5 million students in 33,000 classrooms around the world to learn at least one hour of computer science this week.
Sponsored by Code.org, the effort features entertainers Shakira, Ashton Kutcher, and Angela Bassett and athletes Chris Bosh, Warren Sapp, and Dwight Howard in videos supporting this cause. Tech luminaries including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Google's Susan Wojcicki, and the late Steve Jobs also weigh in with messages on the importance of learning to code. Click here to view them.
During the course of the week there will be Hour of Code Learning events at every major Apple store in the U.S. along with all 51 Microsoft retail stores. This is also Computer Science Education Week. In a recorded interview (scroll down to listen), Code.org co-founder Ali Partovi said that "only 5 percent of U.S. schools teach computer science today, and that number is down from where it was 10 years ago." He said that computer science education peaked around 2003/2004 for a variety of reasons including budget along with state education standards. "In the vast majority of U.S. states computer science does not count toward graduation. It counts as an elective." As money gets tight, schools are cutting computer science along with art and music.
Pointing to the number of coding jobs not just in tech firms but hospitals, government, and all types of businesses, Partovi said that computer science "is the most empowering thing a kid could be learning, especially a kid from a disadvantage background." I didn't fact-check this, but he said that "a college graduate's first job in computer science makes more money than a doctor who's 10 years older." One thing I can't argue with is his statement that for disadvantaged youth, "the dream of becoming a computer programmer" is much more realistic than the odds of becoming an NBA player or a hip-hop star.