Obama Surprises Computer Science Educators on Conference Call

By Benjamin Herold — September 19, 2017 2 min read
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The country’s computer-science teachers, students, and supporters received encouragement from an unexpected source yesterday.

Former President Barack Obama, who prides himself on being the first commander-in-chief to write a line of computer code, joined a conference call organized by the CSforAll Consortium.

Here’s a readout of a portion of Obama’s remarks, provided by a staffer at his Chicago-based foundation:

One of the reasons I talked about computer science in my last State of the Union that I strongly believe that every child has to have the opportunity to learn this critical skill. It’s becoming fundamental—just like reading and writing and math. We are inundated with technology and I don’t want our young people to just be consumers, I want them to be producers of this technology and to understand it, to feel like they’re controlling it, as opposed to it controlling them. And I know there are a lot of young people at school listening today—I want you guys to know how proud I am of all of you, how I much I believe in you, and I can’t wait to see the amazing things that you’re going to build. You know, computer science is changing virtually every industry, from manufacturing to health. And I want to make sure that our young people learn it so you can be in the driver’s seat. To be active citizens in our society, you’ve got to understand how technology works under the hood.

An estimated 1,000 people were on the conference call, according to a statement provided by the Obama Foundation.

“Today’s call was in line with President Obama’s post-presidency goal of cultivating the next generation of leaders,” the statement read.

Social media lit up with reaction.

And, of course, @BarackObama weighed in for his 95 million Twitter followers, as well:

As POTUS44 mentioned in his remarks, he touted the importance of computer-science education in his final state of the union address, saying one of his final goals as president was “helping students learn to write computer code.”

Shortly afterward, Obama announced an “ambitious, all-hands-on-deck” initiative to help make that happen, calling for more than $4 billion in funding to expand access to K-12 computer science education.

The vast majority of that money has not materialized.

But the “CS4all” movement hasn’t stalled. Big districts in cities like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco have launched extensive computer-science education programs.

The CSforAll Consortium will host a national summit for computer-science educators next month in St. Louis.

Image: President Barack Obama talks with middle-school students from Newark, N.J., during an “Hour of Code” event at the White House in 2014.--Jacquelyn Martin/AP-File

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.