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  • Writer's pictureCarolina MIlanesi

Lack Of Access To Computer Science Resources, Not Lack Of Interest, Negatively Impacts Students From

A study published today by Gallup and commissioned by Amazon Future Engineer sheds light on the impact that school, mentors and support have on children’s interest in computer science and willingness to pursue further education as well as a career in computer science. Amazon Future Engineer is a childhood-to-career program designed to inspire and educate students globally, including hundreds of thousands of students in the U.S. each year. The focus is to help students build skills that leverage computer science and coding to be ready for what the future job market will require of them. For 2021, the program is on track to meet its goal of reaching 1.6 million students from historically underrepresented communities globally. In the U.S., that means providing more than 6,000 schools with computer science curriculum, teacher support and professional development.

The new study Developing Careers of the Future: A Study of Student Access to, and interest in Computer Science results are based on a web survey conducted June 2-20, 2021, with a sample of 4,116 U.S. public and private school students in grades 5-12. While some of the data did not come as a surprise, the impact of the intersection of location, rural vs. urban, socioeconomic status, gender and race clearly points to the need to address what has become a systematic lack of access.

Pedrito Maynard-Zhang, Ph.D., Senior Software Development Engineer, Amazon Future Engineer, said in a video interview, “We know that many students, especially those in underserved and [historically] underrepresented communities, lack computer science learning opportunities and exposure to the field. We need to know where these gaps exist so we can ensure Amazon Future Engineer has the maximum impact. This new research with Gallup helps us do this.”

Schools Play A Central Role in Driving Interest in Computer Science

Sixty-eight percent of students who say computer science classes are offered at their school are interested in learning about the topic, compared to 49% of those in schools that don’t offer classes. Students with access to school-based computer science classes are also more than twice as those without to say they plan to study the topic in college (42% vs. 18%, respectively) and that they aspire to have a job in the field (43% vs. 15%).

Source: Developing Careers of the Future: A Study of Student Access to, and Interest in, Computer Science. (2021). Gallup, Inc.


In addition, school plays a critical role in shaping the interest in computer science as 75% of the students said they learned about computer science in a class at school, compared to 23% who say in a group or club at school and another 25% learned from a family member or friend.

Source: Developing Careers of the Future: A Study of Student Access to, and Interest in, Computer Science. (2021). Gallup, Inc.


Having access to classes is only half the battle, though. Quality of education matters a great deal. Not surprisingly, how students see a class also impacts whether they want to further learn about computer science and even pursue a career in the field. Overall, 47% of students who had taken a computer science class strongly agree that it was fun, while another 41% somewhat agree and just 12% disagree. In addition, two-thirds of college-bound students who strongly agree that their computer science class was fun (68%) say they plan to study the subject in college, vs. 28% of those who somewhat agree and 10% of those who disagree.

The intersect of income, race and access becomes very clear when one looks at the data among inner-city kids. In large cities, there are sizable differences by race/ethnicity in computer science access. Overall, white students are somewhat more likely (73%) than Black students (65%) to say computer science classes are available at their school.

Source: Developing Careers of the Future: A Study of Student Access to, and Interest in, Computer Science. (2021). Gallup, Inc.


However, when considering large cities where residential segregation by race and ethnicity is more common, the gap grows considerably: 67% of Black students in these cities say computer science classes are offered at their school, vs. 88% of white students.

For white students, access to computer science education is strongly related to where they live and their household income level. Black and Hispanic students in low-income groups are more likely to live in large cities, while white students in lower-income households are more likely to live in rural areas. Only 54% of white students among lower-income groups say they have access to computer science in their schools. The number rises to 78% among white students in households that earn $90,000 or more.

Role Models Can Shape Career Choices

Overall, about half of students strongly agree (26%) or somewhat agree (27%) that they have role models in computer science. White and Asian students are somewhat more likely than Black and Hispanic students to agree, and boys are somewhat more likely than girls to do so. Camille Lloyd, Director, Gallup Center on Black Voices, says: “Black girls are significantly more likely than others to talk about computer science with their peers and to engage in computer science outside of school. The research indicates that there is programming, especially with the involvement of role models, that can work with groups that are traditionally untapped.”

The presence of role models is a potent predictor of students’ likelihood to say they plan or hope to have a computer science-related job someday. For example, among students who strongly agree they have role models in computer science, 73% hope to have someday a career in the field, vs. 7% of those who strongly disagree that they have role models.

Source: Developing Careers of the Future: A Study of Student Access to, and Interest in, Computer Science. (2021). Gallup, Inc.


“This strong link between having role models and students’ computer science career plans is exactly why our new ‘Meet an Amazonian’ experiences were created — to show students people who look like them and where computer science can lead them,” says Maynard-Zhang.

Since initially piloting in April, the “Meet an Amazonian” experiences from Amazon Future Engineer have already reached over 140,000 students from nearly 2,000 U.S. Title I eligible schools. The program will expand to 3,000 Title I schools by the end of the year.

One of the experiences offered are Class Chats, which provide classrooms with virtual career talks and exposure to tech professionals from tech software development engineers to marketing or program support roles, all aimed at increasing student interest in computer science and their understanding that skills acquired through computer science will be beneficial no matter what job opportunity they will decide to pursue.

Like Lloyd says, “There is so much untapped potential and unmet demand.” The Amazon Future Engineer program helps meet some of that demand. However, it is paramount that school districts and local government do not base their decisions on funding computer science courses on the interest they gather from students who are not yet given the opportunity to learn. From a student perspective, it is very simple, says Lloyd, “They can’t explore what they are not exposed to.”



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