'Hour of Code' gets students programming

President Obama, EA back Code.org computer science initiative
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President Obama, EA back Code.org computer science initiative

It's Computer Science Education Week, and Code.org has launched an “Hour of Code” initiative that encourages students across the globe to spend an hour learning the basics of computer science.

The program has the backing of educators, entrepreneurs, and world leaders in an effort to introduce 10 million students to computer programming.

Code.org estimates that by 2020 there will be nearly 1.4 million computing jobs in the United States, but only 400,000 computer science students.

If all math and sciences jobs are totaled, 60 percent are in a computer science related field, but computer science majors account for less than 2.4 percent of all math and science degrees earned – a figure that has fallen from last decade.

The picture is even worse when viewed through the lens of diversity; only 15 percent of computer science students are women, and only eight percent are of Hispanic or African American descent.

Code.org thinks the problem starts before students get to college. In 36 of 50 states, computer science doesn't count towards graduation, and nine out of ten schools don't offer computer programming classes.

This means that students who want to start programming before college usually have to do so on their own time – a severe handicap for the underprivileged.

By getting students to learn the basics, Code.org hopes to show kids that coding isn't some arcane collection of symbols and is getting increasingly accessible to people of all backgrounds – not just those with the money and time for a four-year degree.

President Obama has released a short video message to support the “Hour of Code” program in which he encourages kids, “Don't just buy a new video game - make one!”

EA is offering students grades K-8 a chance to earn a free game for being among the first to complete the full 20 hour course, and characters from PopCap's Plants vs. Zombies are featured in the student tutorials.

Rovio's Angry Birds will also appear in the tutorials, making the program a truely international effort.

Developers that want to get involved and help Code.org bring a new generation into the computer sciences should visit the organization's website to see all the different ways they can make a difference.