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Obama: Everybody's Got to Learn How to Code

Colors, letters and coding? President Obama has new homework for America’s students.

Vjeran Pavic

Schools need to do a better job helping U.S. students excel in technical fields if the country wants to continue to lead the world in technological innovation, President Obama said Friday during an interview with Re/code’s Kara Swisher.*

The U.S. seems to be falling behind, Swisher said, asking the president how the country can change the equation, since “even though we’ve got this strong industry, we’re losing lots of ground.”

“What is true is … that our lead will erode if we don’t make some good choices now,” the president said. “We’ve got to have our kids in math and science, and it can’t just be a handful of kids. It’s got to be everybody. Everybody’s got to learn how to code early.”

The president has encouraged his two daughters, Sasha and Malia, to learn to code, although they apparently haven’t taken to it the way he’d like.

“I think they got started a little bit late,” the president conceded. “Part of what you want to do is introduce this with the ABCs and the colors,” he said. Particular attention needs to be paid to helping girls and other underrepresented groups in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, including African-Americans and Latinos, the president continued.

What’s the problem with the U.S. tech industry when we see a litany of tech companies report workforce statistics that are routinely 70 percent white or 70 percent male, Swisher asked.

There’s been no shortage of reports about women and minorities struggling to break into technical fields as well as proposals for addressing diversity issues in science and technology companies, particularly in Silicon Valley.

“I think part of the problem is just generally, our school systems aren’t doing as good of a job on this, period. Full stop,” the president replied. “And then, part of what’s happening is that we are not helping schools and teachers teach it in an interesting way,” he said.

When a certain portion of the population — girls, African-American or other minority kids — don’t have visible role models to look up to in these fields, they feel like these fields aren’t open to them, the president said.

“And what ends up happening is a certain portion of the population just drifts away,” he said.

* Kara Swisher is married to but separated from Megan Smith, chief technology officer for the Obama Administration. See her ethics statement here.

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