Pearl River County School District adds computer science curriculum

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Advancements in technology have created jobs that did not exist 10 or even five years ago. To better prepare students for the jobs of the future, the Pearl River County School District recently adopted a new computer science program and corresponding curriculum.
In the fall of 2016, the District applied for a pilot program called Computer Science for Mississippi in an effort to provide a more advanced and well-rounded education to its students.
After being updated in 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act states that computer science will be part of a well-rounded education, creating a new curriculum to put it on equal footing with the other subjects.
“We want Mississippi to be among the first to adopt computer science from kindergarten to 12th grade. We believe it is our time to lead the country in preparing our students for the jobs of tomorrow by exposing them to the important, foundational skills found in computer science,” Jean Massey, executive director of the Office of Secondary Education for the Mississippi Department of Education, said.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts that by 2020, there will be an additional 1.2 million job openings for qualified computer scientists. However, the majority of these vacant roles, which are becoming increasingly necessary in the digital age, will go unfilled, she said.
Decades ago, only technology firms were impacted by the shortage, PRC School District Curriculum and Professional Development Director Kimberly Alford said, but today, nearly every industry, from health care to automotive, seeks people with computing skills to fill jobs. Alford said she hopes the new computer science curriculum will expose the students to the important, foundational skills needed for the profession, like critical thinking and problem solving.
“Currently, industries in Mississippi are having to go out-of-state to find qualified computer scientists. There are currently over 1,000 open computing jobs in Mississippi and less than 200 students graduating with computer science degrees,” Massey said.
Writing computer code is a major skill needed to become a computer scientist, but there are many classes from kindergarten through high school that are instrumental for students pursuing the occupation, Alford said. In the PRC School District, students interested in the subject from kindergarten to 5th grade must take courses that include block programming, digital citizenship and keyboarding, Alford said. In high school, the students must have taken or be taking Algebra I at the same time as the computer science courses as a prerequisite. All computer science teachers must be licensed educators and attend professional development courses, Alford said.
“We believe it is imperative that we begin exposing our students to the concepts of computer science from the beginning of their school journey. With this, and the growing industry, we are piloting computer science curriculum at the K-5 level and the high school level,” Alford said.

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