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Teach computer science in S.C.
Source: South Carolina Department of Education

It’s virtually impossible to know what the future job market might look like for a child in kindergarten. But one thing is sure — he or she will have to know how to use a computer.

And that’s really just a bare minimum. App development, coding ability, web design and similar skills might well be job requirements rather than simply resume-boosting perks. For a lot of positions, they already are.

So the South Carolina Department of Education has the right idea in pushing much stronger new computer science standards for all K-8th grade students in the state.

Lots of schools in the state only offer keyboarding classes right now, but students need to know more than just how to type quickly if they’re going to be competitive job seekers. And rural schools are even less likely to offer serious computer science coursework — or have sufficient access to up-to-date technology.

That’s putting too many students at a serious disadvantage.

According to the draft standards, kindergarten students would be expected to learn to identify different computing devices, communicate over the internet and protect personal information, for example. Middle schoolers would analyze network structures and security, practice basic data collection and develop algorithms to solve basic problems.

Those are incredibly useful skills for students regardless of what career path they might eventually choose.
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Learning about algorithms and code and data analysis can boost math and language ability, develop creative thinking and help young people better interpret the world around them. And familiarity with network security, internet use and data protection have immediate and critical real-world applications.

Rural students in particular could benefit from better computer science training. Some might not have access to much technology at home, meaning that school could be the only chance they get to use a tablet or work with certain software.

And the skills they learn can open valuable career paths even in parts of the state otherwise left behind economically. Web developers, app designers and other tech professionals can work from pretty much anywhere in the world, and those jobs generally pay very well.

Of course all of this requires that South Carolina get serious about providing sufficient funding to all schools to equip students with the technology they need. It’s a worthwhile investment in the state’s future.

And teachers will need to get up to speed on some relatively complex new topics to cover in the classroom. That’s going to require expanded access to training and continuing education, a similarly worthy investment.

The public can review the proposed standards and offer feedback through Jan. 15 on the state Department of Education website.

In an increasingly digital world, it’s hardly a stretch to lump computer literacy in with reading, writing and arithmetic as a fundamental skill.

South Carolina students will increasingly require a serious, in-depth computer science education to prepare them for a competitive job market. The state would be wise to provide them with that opportunity.

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