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Where Does Computer Science Stand When It Comes to After-School?

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A new report from the Afterschool Alliance finds that there's still a lot of confusion among after-school providers about what it means to offer computer science.

The report titled, "Growing Computer Science Education in Afterschool: Opportunities and Challenges," examines the role of computer science in after-school programs.

"We were really curious how our after-school practitioners were thinking about this: Are they interested, do they see it as something useful for their students, and of course, what are they doing and what are their challenges?" said Melissa Ballard, STEM manager for Afterschool Alliance.

The report is based in part on a survey of 376 after-school programs. It also includes information gathered from two focus groups: one made up of members of state-level organizations that support after-school programs and the other made up of local after-school leaders.

The survey was not nationally representative, although a broad geographic area was covered and urban, suburban, and rural areas were represented. Survey responses came from 46 states with only Delaware, Nevada, North Dakota, and Washington excluded.  Most of the responses (44 percent) came from after-school programs that primarily served high-poverty student populations. Programs that served middle-poverty populations made up 35 percent of the responses, while 21 percent came from respondents serving low-poverty student populations.

Key Findings:

  • 43 percent of the programs were offering computing to their students at the time of the survey, while 16 percent had offered it previously, and 40 percent had never offered it
  • 89 percent of those programs that had never offered computing indicated a high or medium level of interest in offering it in the future
  • Among those with experience offering computing, 87 percent would participate in professional development if it were available

The survey asked respondents to identify the top three activities they associate with computing, and providers that had never offered computing were more likely (69 percent) to list activities associated with computer literacy such as typing and using the Internet. But 75 percent of the providers with experience offering computing listed at least one traditional computer science activity such as coding.

Whether the providers currently offered computing, had offered it in the past or had never offered it, they all cited qualified staff as the biggest challenge to offering computing. 

Looking Forward

The report also provides recommendations for after-school providers, computer science education experts, and industry partners. Providers are encouraged to share best practices with one another, while CS experts are called upon to develop curriculum specifically for after-school programs, and industry partners are asked to invest in meaningful partnerships.

Since computer science is a part of the Next Generation Science Standards, Ballard said, after-school programs have a great opportunity to collaborate with school districts to offer this type of programming. She said these programs should also look to community partnerships to help when it comes to bringing computing to students outside of school hours.

"People are really trying to come together and think about how they can do this holistically, thinking about all of the different types of learning spaces that are available," said Ballard. "We hope that having this report can help get that conversation started."

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