Tech Summer Camps Aim to Interest Kids in Computer Science
This summer, maybe you sent your children to a camp where they could learn new things or improve their skills—to a basketball clinic, a nature program, or space camp. Well, there’s another educational program—technology camp—that’s gaining popularity in the United States, and it could help the kids attending land some in-demand jobs down the road.
Technology camps teach children technical and creative skills, including basic programming, software design, and how to build apps, websites, and video games. The kids are engaged because many activities are set up like games with problem solving and competitions, but the attendees come away with a good foundation for learning computer science skills that are in demand in a competitive job market.
One such camp, r00tz, which is held during DEF CON in Las Vegas, teaches children how to be white-hat hackers. Counselors instruct them in breaking code, finding glitches in software, and hacking Internet-connected devices.
This summer, two of the camp leaders had an idea. They knew that Samsung and Facebook have bug bounty programs, so they asked the campers at r00tz to search for vulnerabilities in the Facebook app for Samsung’s smart TV. Within just a few hours, the kids found three bugs. One of the white-hats-in-training who found a bug, a thirteen-year-old girl who goes by Cy-Fi, said she’s planning to donate part of her reward to the Electric Frontier Foundation, which defends privacy rights online and stands up for hackers.
Another camp, iD Tech, is held at dozens of top universities across the country. It offers weeklong summer tech camps to teach children ages seven to seventeen how to code, and two-week intensive academies for teenagers in game development, programming, and robotics. This summer, more than 28,000 kids enrolled in the camps nationwide; many locations already have waiting lists for next year’s courses.
These numbers are encouraging for the American job market. According to Code.org, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to growing computer programming education, in the year 2020 there will be 1.4 million computing jobs but only 400,000 computer science students. These are some high-paying jobs, too, but there won't be enough qualified candidates to fill them.
The US school system’s curriculum doesn’t seem to be reflecting these trends. Nine out of ten high schools in the country don’t offer computer programming classes, and thirty-six states don’t count coding classes toward graduation requirements, according to Code.org.
Until schools get with the times, technology summer camps are a great resource for giving kids a leg up in learning computer science—something even the president thinks is important.
Earlier this year, Barack Obama answered questions from people across the country in a Google+ Hangout, and he said he thinks we should make it a national effort to add a computer programming language requirement in schools.
“Given how pervasive computers and the Internet is now, and how integral it is into our economy and how fascinated kids are with it, I want to make sure they know how to actually produce stuff using computers and not just simply consume stuff,” he said.