In an increasingly divisive U.S. political climate, there’s at least one cause that has found support on both sides of the aisle — computer science education.
President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor both stressed the importance of learning to to code, or write computer programs, in videos uploaded Sunday to YouTube by Code.org, a non-profit advocacy group. The joint call to action comes at the start of Computer Science Education Week, which began Monday.
“If we want America to stay on the cutting edge, we need young Americans like you to master the tools and technology that will change how we do just about everything,” Obama says in a short video. “Don’t just buy a new video game, make one. Don’t just download the latest app, help design it. Don’t just play on your phone, program it.”
Cantor, who often plays the role of political adversary to Obama, backed the President’s sentiment.
“America is the land of opportunity. We have so much before us — so many challenges to overcome and problems to solve,” Cantor says. “Coding is the necessary tool of this century to best do that.”
Cantor goes on to say that learning to code is as important as learning language and math: “It is the only way for you to prepare for the future.”
Additionally, 2012 Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich appears in a Code.org video promoting the Hour of Code campaign as “a great, free, voluntary opportunity” to “make sure that every American understands a lot more about computing.”
In October, Code.org announced its “Hour of Code” campaign, which aimed to “demystify computer science” for 10 million grade school students by exposing them to introductory concepts for at least an hour during Computer Science Education Week. Hadi Partovi, co-founder and CEO of Code.org, told Mashable in an email that some 35,000 teachers and 5 million students from around the world signed up to participate.
“Today is when 5 million students begin learning to code, with support from athletes, celebrities, politicians, world leaders and all the top websites of the world,” Partovi wrote.
In addition to the political attention, Code.org has garnered support from celebrities and tech industry leaders. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Miami Heat player Chris Bosh, actor Ashton Kutcher and pop singers Shakira and Will.I.Am are among the prominent figures who have appeared in Code.org videos endorsing computer science education.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan explains the significance of Computer Science Education Week in another video uploaded to Code.org’s YouTube page on Sunday. The initiative is timed to correspond with the birthdate of computing pioneer Grace Murray Hopper (subject of Monday’s Google Doodle), who was born on Dec. 9, 1906, and died in 1992.
Image: U.S. Navy
Hopper earned a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Yale University and served in the U.S. Navy, helping to develop the earliest computers and design programming languages. After joining the Naval Reserves in 1943, Hopper eventually reached the rank of Rear Admiral in 1985.
Duncan also discusses why he believes computer science education is important for U.S. students.
“Our children will need computer science so that they can learn how to use that knowledge in problem solving,” Duncan says. “They will need to be able to code and they will need some understanding of algorithms, software engineering, big data, cyber security and the limits of what computers can do.”
Economics appears to be the driving force behind politicians’ unified support of computer programming education. A Code.org report suggests the demand for computer science employees in the U.S. could exceed the number of students who take up the subject by 1 million by 2020.
Image: Jose Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images