In 1995, Steve Jobs said “Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer…. Because it teaches you how to think.” Decades later, evidence is growing to support the idea that learning computer science and coding, helps students far beyond the direct benefits of digital literacy or careers in tech.
Seven different studies show: children who study computer science perform better in other subjects, excel at problem-solving, and are 17% more likely to attend college.
Computer programming improves students’ creativity, math and reasoning skills
A meta-analysis of 440 other studies of K-12 students showed that learning computer programming demonstrably improves student creativity, mathematical skills, metacognition, spatial skills, and reasoning skills. All the analyzed studies used control groups, and the result across all 440 studies showed that students who were exposed to computer programming showed a “transfer” of their learning not only within the domain of computer science, but also to other skills such as creativity, math, and reasoning.
In primary school: better performance in reading, math, and science
A study in Broward County, Florida, found that among classrooms of resourceful teachers who introduced students to computer science in 3rd grade (using Code.org), the more time students spent learning computer science, the better their test scores in reading, writing, math, and science.
In secondary school: better scores on standardized AP exams
A study by the College Board compared students from similar backgrounds, with similar math scores on the SAT aptitude test. After accounting for their prior background, students who studied computer science subsequently outperformed on Advanced Placement exams in Calculus or Statistics.
Post-secondary: 17% higher likelihood of enrolling in university
A longitudinal study of students from secondary schools in two of the largest school districts in the U.S. found that students who studied computer science were more likely to enroll in 4-year colleges after secondary school, when compared to other students, even after controlling for major factors associated with college enrollment (socioeconomic status, GPA, race, gender). High school students who took a year-long AP Computer Science (either AP CS Principles or CS A) course were 17% more likely to enroll in college than their similarly-situated peers!
Meanwhile, an inventory of course requirements at the University of California showed that computer science is considered important enough to satisfy a core graduation requirement for 95% of B.S. degrees across UC schools, and thus provides students a foundational background for degrees from Physics to Cognitive Science to Business Information Management.
Better performance at problem-solving, from primary school to university
A study among primary school students in Italy randomly selected some classrooms to study 10 hours of computer science (using Code.org), while other classrooms studied more typical math and science for the same 10 hours. In subsequent assessments, the students who studied computer science not only outperformed in computer-programming, they also outperformed in generic problem-solving challenges involving executive/planning skills.
Similar results have been replicated in a study of university students: students with different academic pathways were assessed on their generic problem-solving abilities. Those who had studied computer science outperformed in problem-solving, compared to students who had studied other quantitative fields such as math, chemistry, or engineering, as well as students of liberal arts subjects such as economics, philosophy, international relations, or psychology.
Computer science isn’t about math aptitude
A long-held stereotype about computer science is that aptitude in computer programming is associated with aptitude in math. However, only inconsistent evidence of this link has ever been produced and the stereotype may simply be the result of the fact that historically the people teaching computer programming were in the math department. But new research shows that language skills are far more important than math/numeracy skills in predicting a student’s performance at learning modern computer programming. And generic problem-solving and learning aptitude are even more relevant than language or math skills combined.
The benefits of learning computer science go far beyond computer science
Stanford University claims that studying computer science “prepares students for careers in government, law, the corporate sector, and graduate study.” And indeed, the benefits of learning CS extend to many different careers. CS graduates are among the highest paying university graduates, earning 40% more than average university graduates. Computing occupations are now the fastest-growing, and largest segment of all professions, spanning all industries. Even in non-computing professions such as marketing or design, digital skills are in hot demand, as the majority of all U.S. occupations now involve “moderately digital” skills.
Today’s most highly-valued companies, including the most highly-valued phone manufacturer, retailer, or automobile company, are all founded by former students of computer science. What if computer science helped these founders learn more than just technical skills? Perhaps, as Steve Jobs said, decades before Apple became the world’s first trillion-dollar company, it is because computer science teaches you how to think? And if so, shouldn’t everybody have the access and opportunity to learn it?
But most schools don’t offer computer science
Despite all the evidence that computer science helps students outperform in school, increases their likelihood of attending university, and leads to better careers, the sad truth is that the majority of children will never have the opportunity to learn this subject in their school. Computer science can boost a child’s entire life from school to career, but the opportunity to study it is pre-determined by income, race, and geography — U.S. schools in low-income neighborhoods, in urban or rural geographies, and with high populations of black or Latino students are half as likely to even offer computer science.
Every student deserves this opportunity. You can help
If you are a parent, encourage your child to learn at home. If you are an educator, does your school offer computer science? If it does not, you can help bring computer science to your school, or expand the offerings. To help extend the same opportunity to low-income communities, consider a charitable gift to Code.org to support a new computer teacher whose students would otherwise be left behind. There are so many other ways to help, starting with sharing this article on social media.
Please join us. Help us support over one million teachers who believe that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science.
Hadi Partovi, Code.org