The Need for Computer Science


I think most of us have seen it and some of us have lived it. Everyone wants to use computers and technology and be on the cutting edge. “I gots a blog” – “I’m on Facebook” – “I’m a power user of spreadsheets”. And, they work fine in their own little world and are productive.

Until something goes wrong. “How do I open a .pptx” file?

Then, what to do? If you’re lucky, there may be a person that you can call for assistance.

Who are the best people to call? Sometimes, it’s the person who has clicked enough buttons to know where various configuration controls are. That can be time consuming and often only solves part of the problem. The best resource is an individual who understands the whole picture; how all of the components interact; how the basic functionality is provided by machine to humanity.

The discipline of computer science and computer engineering is based upon understanding fully how components and objects interact with each other.

In a recent article, Computer Science Education: Where Are the Software Engineers of Tomorrow?, http://www.stsc.hill.af.mil/CrossTalk/2008/01/0801DewarSchonberg.html, the question is asked. Does anyone have an answer?

If you take a look at the discipline of Computer Science, enrollments are down – way down. In many cases, I think it’s because the whole discipline has been devalued by “the organization”. In Ontario, with the new secondary school curriculum, in a world where courses are classified as academic or applied, the computer science courses are “M”. Couple that with an increased need for literacy and numeracy and just getting started in Computer Science isn’t always appealing. Those very talented students need to stand up for what they really want and demand that they be permitted to take this course, even though it doesn’t carry the “A” classification.

In the article, the authors get to the heart of Computer Science at the university/college level and make excellent points. But, for them to even have the problem, we need to provide the students to the university. We also live in a society where the average home user is increasingly asked to have higher than average computer skills. While the study of Computer Science doesn’t have all of the answers, it does have the connections and the deep knowledge to understand how parts (including the person behind the keyboard) interact.

This is a major issue. Just as online bullying is something that needs to be addressed, so does the general computer literacy of a generation. The Computer Studies curriculum is under review and I hope desperately that Computer Science is restored to its rightful place as discipline that has various levels including a heavy academic strand that’s important to kids or society.

Can we afford to have society that need to pay for advice like “Save As”?