The problem with high school computer science

I didn’t take a CS class in high school, but I often meet people who did. When asked about their experience, they usually answer one of the following:

  1. “I took CS in high school and didn’t like it.”
  2. “I took CS in high school, didn’t like it, but tried it again in college and loved it.”

Rarely do I hear that people enjoyed their high school CS class. The problem here is that a lot of students who would’ve majored in CS in college never considered doing so because they didn’t enjoy their high school CS class.

The irony, of course, is that high schools offer CS classes to get more students excited about the subject. Unfortunately, many of these classes are poorly taught, causing kids to stop considering the field even before they enter college.

The quality of college CS courses matter, of course. The experience of my friends in camp #2 suggest, though, that camp #1 students might’ve enjoyed their college CS course enough to stick with it.

This trend towards more high school CS classes is a double-edged sword. On one hand, a well-taught CS program can inspire young kids– especially those traditionally under-represented– to pursue the field. A poorly-taught CS course, however, does more harm than good.

It seems to me that early exposure in classrooms is good only if it’s well-taught. Otherwise, it’s better to wait.

June 2018