May 30 2023

Why K-12 Schools Must Invest in Teaching Quantum Computing Today

Previously taught only in advanced graduate programs, quantum computing instruction is filtering down to middle and high school students.

Quantum computers are set to change the world, and K–12 schools have a role to play. These computers can make complex calculations and process and analyze huge amounts of intricate data much faster than classical computers.

How fast? Back in 2019, Google celebrated when its quantum computer performed “a computation in 200 seconds that would have taken the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years.”

Educators and scientists say K-12 students must be exposed to quantum information science at an early age to prepare them for advanced math and science in college and, later, for careers in related fields. This step is particularly pressing as McKinsey notes that a third of jobs in the field remain vacant.

Quantum computing was once taught only in doctoral programs. However, it is “not beyond the realm of understanding for high school students,” says Ali Warshay, program director of The Coding School, a nonprofit organization focused on computer science training and workforce development.

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Some States Add Quantum Computing to K-12 Curriculum

While the field is still developing, the White House is working with the National Science Foundation to get quantum learning materials to K-12 schools. Educators in Ohio and Texas have made this subject a high priority for K–12.

Last year, Ohio updated its K-12 computer science curriculum to include quantum computing. Around the same time, Texas educators advocated in front of the state board of education for foundational quantum computing subjects such as physics to become mandatory, particularly to prepare students for careers in cybersecurity and IT.

LEARN MORE: Teaching emerging technologies empowers K–12 students.

Quantum Computing Camps Support and Empower K–12 Learners

While quantum information science may not be part of every state’s curriculum, there are organizations working to fill the gap. Last summer, the University of Texas at Arlington offered its Quantum For All workshops for teachers and camps for students at several locations in Texas, Ohio and New York. The organization is planning to offer the camps and workshops again this year.

In 2020, The Coding School partnered with IBM, MIT and Oxford University to kick off Qubit by Qubit, the first global quantum computing course for students in high school and beyond. The yearlong program drew 7,500 students from around the world and has since offered additional camps, workshops and courses, and even a camp for middle school students.

RELATED: Schools are teaching the principles of computer science early.

“Quantum computing is a really fantastic way to introduce students to interdisciplinary science, technology, engineering and math subjects,” Warshay says.

The lessons start at a conceptual level aligned with skills students need to know for coding and relevant physics concepts, she adds. During a typical introductory class, instructors explain to students how quantum computers are different from conventional computers and other machines.

For students interested in quantum computing work, the program’s instructors and leaders discuss opportunities in higher education and the workplace, says Gabbie Meis, program manager for Qubit by Qubit. “Our goal is creating and supporting and empowering more transdisciplinary educated young learners, regardless of whether they choose to go into quantum as well,” she says.

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