I believe it to be a well-known fact that education often lags behind the times. I remember Mike Rowe from the show Dirty Jobs, saying that “We are lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist.” I am someone who still holds to the idea that education, especially higher levels of education, is part of the fundamental building blocks to creating success and wealth for individuals.
Let me talk briefly about my own experience. I taught computer science and math at a high school in Denton ISD for the better part of 5 years. In the first year of teaching, I created an end-of-the-year project for my computer science kids. Their task was to research an emerging field in technology and report on it. They were to write a paper and create a PowerPoint which they would use to give a presentation to the class. I was so excited for the final product. I could not wait to read their papers. Surely, students would find this project compelling as they can pursue their interests and report on a wide range of issues that stem from technology.
As I started to read the first set of papers, the use of English was beyond that of a 9th or 10th grader. The vocabulary and the command of English was incredibly precise, as if a professional had written it. The papers did not have a single narrative, as if it were blended together from multiple authors. It did not take me that long to realize that all of my students had just copied and pasted from Google. Every paper was plagiarized. My students had taken the minimalist approach and the easy way out.
As a young teacher, I thought the system had already instructed students about the ramifications of plagiarism. I did not realize I had to be the one to enforce it. To say that I was tremendously disappointed would be an understatement. That would be the one and only year I would give that project in that manner.
In my second year as a teacher, I learned that when assigning programming labs, I cannot simply let them do it at their own time. It must be in class under immense supervision because students share and copy code from the Internet. I would pull the plug on the Internet during lab time to force them to write their own code so that we can have some semblance of academic integrity.
Today, I work for Rex K-12. Here at Rex, we are having to take extra precautions because we keep receiving feedback that students “blow through” our curriculum without any accountability. The advancements of AI such as ChatGPT has made things worse in this regard. Students literally ask us, “why do I need to learn this when the AI can just do it for me?”
From other parts of academia, we have received similar feedback where students find it increasingly easy to get around the system. While limited innovations have taken place to combat this growing concern, there is no doubt our school systems are slow to respond to this situation. Often, it feels like we are applying a band-aid rather than producing actual solutions.
As a former teacher and as an individual who works in the academic world, it is my opinion that technology education should be at the forefront of modern-day academia. I appreciate that we still want to teach the stuff that we have always taught (calculus, physics, chemistry) but I will go to my grave arguing that computer science education is just as if not more important than these traditional courses. I can appreciate Newton’s Laws, but is that really more relevant than learning how the Internet works? I am not discrediting classical education, but we must pivot to the realities of our times.
With the advent of the automobile, we stopped teaching our population how to ride horses. If we can apply this same technique and philosophy to our education system and modernize it in a way that fits today’s demands, we will produce an academic system that is more robust and hardened against some of the problems that I spoke of earlier and we just might produce an electorate capable of innovating at a scope and scale that would fitting for this generation.
I speak for all of us here at Rex when I say that we stand at post, ready to be part of this solution.
Written by Tapu Ahmed
Former High School CS Teacher