Where’d The Whiz Kids Go?

Today’s article of that name, in the Seattle Times, by Nick Perry, is here.

Even if you’re not in the Seattle area, it will be of interest to you, since the article reviews and addresses many of the factors which define this problem around the country. The article is also related to the Johnny Can’t Code fuss which David Brin and Salon stirred up this week.

Just about every part of the country could write their own version of this story, and as the article says, Computer Science education is actually holding up better in Seattle than it is anywhere else in the country:

Computer-science enrollment at the UW has remained flat for seven years, but it’s holding up better than at most institutions, where it has dropped sharply since 2000. It got so bad at Seattle Pacific University that this year administrators considered closing their computer science department altogether, a plan that’s been shelved for now.

In case you haven’t heard, there was over a 60% drop in the US nationwide percentage of incoming freshman intending to study Computer Science, from 2000 to 2004. Think about this practically: how fast are CS programs going to disappear, with that kind of decline in their business? Even the ones that don’t disappear will, for purely budgetary reasons, inevitably shrink to match.

This is a major national competitive issue at this point, and should get much more attention from us all than it yet has. We already know India and China are ramping up technical education very quickly – the timing of this collapse in US Computer Science education is going to simply concede the entire field to them if we don’t turn this around quickly. I hate to say it, but the phrase that comes to mind for me is “You snooze, you lose.”

Check out this Newsweek article on exactly this topic, from January, by Fareed Zakaria: We All Have a Lot to Learn. He also did an excellent long analysis in March of India’s economy, and America’s connections to and dependence on it, in India Rising.

Helping to address the decline in US Computer Science enrollment is one of the goals and opportunities for KPL and Phrogram, of course, and we’re getting a lot of interest as a result. There simply is no easier or more fun way to learn and do real computer programming than Phrogram at the moment – which puts us in a very timely spot. Adoption of Phrogram is just beginning, but we expect given this issue and our position, that it’ll happen very quickly. International universities have been using KPL for nearly a year, and Ohio State University is a major US CS program that’s leading the way by starting a new CS course this week using Phrogram – a week before Phrogram even releases officially.

It has been ironic to us, and a bit telling, that from the beginning it has been international teachers, schools and students who jumped on KPL first – jumped on it so enthusiastically that a year later there are volunteer translations of KPL into Chinese, Russian, Thai, Portuguese, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Danish, Czech, Polish, Greek, Dutch, Norwegian, Romanian, Swedish and Catalan. Something for us to think about is that India doesn’t need a translation from English.

So: Where’d the Whiz Kids Go? It’s great for the rest of the world to have their share of Whiz Kids. The question is whether we’re going to have any here.

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2 thoughts on “Where’d The Whiz Kids Go?

  1. Yuvi says:

    For the record, I am from India, and there’s only one thing I can say: Most people here get into computer science because it pays, not because they like it. Like, 400$ a month is a pretty sizeable income here, so people who don’t know an int from an ant get CS degres..

    And, the colleges here are actually worse: I’ve seen Zlog-80 mentioned as the latest innovation in microprocessor technology!

    But there seems to be hope, as more people seem to start liking computers. Actually, drop in the numbers might be a good sign, because it means you get more quality than quantity…

    And, you just have to have one look at a bad coder’s code to see that quality wins over quantity, anytime…

    Anyway, KPL’s really cool, so is Phrogram. I am in high school, and while I am able to grop VB 05, my friends seem to prefer Phrogram:) We’re even planning to create a game for our school science exhibit, but maybe in VB or even Phrogram…

    thanks, and rock on!:)

  2. theschwartz says:

    Hi Yuvi! Whiz kids everywhere rock! Thanks for the info about education in India, and let us know if we can help with your high school project at all?

    Maybe your post will help get some whiz kids elsewhere to also tell us about fun stuff they are doing with Phrogram? We’re planning a fun programming contest for next month – keep an eye for that on the Phrogram site!

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