A Busy Day in Washington, D.C.

White House panel

On September 16, 2010, NCWIT’s Policy and Media representative in Washington, The Honorable Paula Stern, attended President Barack Obama’s speech delivered at the White House, which gathered business and industry leaders from Xerox, Kodak, Exxon Mobil, Intel, Proctor & Gamble; students and educators; members of Congress; top scientists in the Obama administration; and two iconic female astronauts, Sally Ride and Mae Jemison.

This impressive group of movers and shakers from the science, technology, business, and education sectors gathered for what President Obama said was “a simple reason”.  The President told his audience, “Everybody in this room understands that our nation’s success depends on strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of discovery and innovation.  And all of the CEOs who are here today understand that their company’s future depends on their ability to harness the creativity and dynamism and insight of a new generation.  And that leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today – especially in science, technology, engineering and math.  We know how important this is for our health.  It’s important for our security.  It’s important for our environment.  And we know how important it is for our economy”.

The September 16 White House event marked the release of a new report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), entitled Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for America’s Future, and the launch of Change the Equation, a new initiative whose mission is to improve the quality of STEM educators; inspire students to take an interest in STEM fields; and achieve a commitment from business, government, and the community to bolster the state of STEM education in the United States.

President Obama encouraged his audience to ask any of the CEOs and scientists in the room where innovation begins, and noted that they “…will tell you, this kind of innovation isn’t born in the boardroom or on the factory floor.  It doesn’t begin in a basement workshop or a research laboratory.  That’s where the payoff happens.  But it starts long before.  It starts in a classroom.  It starts when a child learns that every star in the night sky is another sun; when a young girl swells with accomplishment after solving a tough math problem; when a boy builds a model rocket and watches it soar; when an eager student peers through a microscope and discovers a whole new world.  It’s in these moments that a young person may discover a talent or a passion that might lead to a career…And it’s in these moments that we see why a quality science and math education matters, why it is absolutely critical to us”.

PCAST’s Prepare and Inspire report pinpoints the specific importance of computing skills.  The report notes, “Computer-related courses should aim not just for technological literacy, which includes such utilitarian skills as keyboarding and the use of commercial software packages and the internet, but for a deeper understanding of the essential concepts, methods and wide-ranging applications of computer science.  Students should gain hands-on exposure to the process of algorithmic thinking and its realization in the form of a computer program, to the use of computational techniques for real-world problem solving, and to such pervasive computational themes as modeling and abstraction, modularity and reusability, computational efficiency, testing and debugging, and the management of complexity. "

President Obama praised Prepare and Inspire and urged Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Dr. Cora Marrett, Acting Director of the National Science Foundation, to consider the report’s recommendations and determine the best means to implementing them.   Let’s hope Prepare and Inspire’s recommendations for computing are turned into reality soon.