In August, Google and Gallup released a CS report focused on rural and small-town school districts. It is entitled Computer Science Learning: Closing the Gap. According to the report, rural and small-town students make up nearly half of the U.S. K-12 population – so anyone that is passionate about solving CS talent shortages needs to pay attention to these students!

Data in the Google/Gallup report highlights that while rural/small-town students show similar interest levels in learning CS, their access to CS education opportunities is more limited.

For example, when students were asked how interested they were in learning computer science in the future, the percent of students that were very interested or somewhat interested was the same (82%) for both the rural/small-town and large city/suburban student segments. On the flip side, rural and small-town students had fewer opportunities for CS learning. According to Google/Gallup, rural and small-town students are:

  • Less likely to have CS classes (58% rural or small-town, 57% large-city and 65% suburban).
  • Less likely to have CS clubs in their school (47% rural or small-town, 59% large-city and 65% suburban).
  • Less likely to say they have courses that specifically teach coding (37% rural or small-town, 41% large-city and 49% suburban).
  • Less likely to have advanced-placement CS courses (8% rural or small-town 9% large-city and 12% suburban).

When Google/Gallup queried principals about the reasons behind having fewer CS learning opportunities, the most common answers given were a:

  • Lack of CS-skilled teachers (64%).
  • Lack of budget to train or hire teachers (56%).
  • Need to devote most of their time to courses related to testing requirements, and CS is not one of them (52%).

In Couragion’s own K-12 research (completed in Q1 2017 with generous support from the National Science Foundation), we saw similar trends in rural CS education. In looking at rural versus non-rural populations, the data showed that:

  • Rural schools were less likely to offer Java (50% of rural, 53% of non-rural).
  • Rural CS teachers were less likely to have a CS degree or CS certification (46% of rural teachers report no CS degree/certification, 31% of non-rural teachers report no CS degree/certification).
  • Rural schools report ¼ of the ‘per student CS budget’ than non-rural schools report.
  • Rural schools are less likely to offer CS family education events such as coding nights or maker days (13% of rural, 18% of non-rural).

So where does that leave us? Google/Gallup make the following recommendations to help increase CS learning opportunities for rural and small-town students:

  • Broaden support for CS education among parents, teachers and school-board members.
  • Strengthen mechanisms and support for teachers in rural settings.
  • Use local, national and global partners to increase awareness of CS careers in rural areas.

I would add that those of us involved in creating CS programs and curriculum need to think beyond place-based solutions. Many of today’s programs (such as job shadowing or mentor programs or out-of-school learning events) are place-based and by nature exclude those in rural or small-town areas. When putting such programs in place, an excellent addition would be to think about how the program can be adapted to include online components that reach our students outside of cities and suburbs.

If you have implemented creative ideas for increasing CS education access for rural/small-town students, we would welcome hearing about those (info at Couragion.com).

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