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IEEE Urges Congressional Support for Obama's Tech Education Plan

In a letter sent this week, IEEE executives ask House of Representative members to approve the president's three-year, $4 billion proposal.

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The heads of the IEEE Computer Society and IEEE-USA are urging congressmen to support President Obama's push for more money for computer education in K-12 schools.

In a letter sent out to members of the House of Representatives Feb. 22, Roger Fujii, president of the IEEE Computer Society, and IEEE-USA President Peter Eckstein pointed to the growing societal role that IT plays—from smartphones to smart grids to autonomous vehicles—and the need to make computer literacy "a basic competency that all students need."

"It is imperative that American students—all students—have a basic understanding of how computers work," they wrote. "Students need to be exposed to computer programming and basic computer engineering concepts to be able to pursue careers in the IT fields of course. But they will also need this exposure for virtually all careers and to be effective citizens in an increasingly computerized world. In the 21st century, basic computer literacy ought to be viewed the same way basic literacy and numeracy was in the last century."

Obama late last month announced a three-year, $4 billion initiative called "Computer Science for All" that is aimed at giving teachers more training in IT, equipping classrooms with more technology and creating classroom materials about computers. It also would put a focus on girls and minorities, who are underrepresented in the tech industry. The money would be allotted to states that have plans in place to grow computer science access in schools, and also includes money from some tech companies.

The initiative is part of Obama's larger $4.2 trillion budget for fiscal year 2017. Both the computer proposal and the entire budget need to pass the Republican-held Congress, so neither is assured.

In talking about the program during a weekly radio broadcast, the president said computer science no longer should be looked at as an option in the classroom, but as a basic skill. In their letter to House members, Fujii and Eckstein noted the Every Student Succeeds Act that Congress passed last year, "which made it clear that states could use federal education funds to add computer programming to their curricula. In doing so, you allowed America's schools to take an important step towards upgrading our schools. Now Congress needs to help our schools take this step."

The IEEE represents more than 400,000 tech professionals, including 200,000 in the United States.