The United States Has An Education Problem, But Is Big Tech Really The Answer? – TechCrunch
It may have taken hearings in Congress, but America is starting to realize the negative effects of the unexamined use of technology on our society, especially our young people.
From the Facebook Papers to Elizabeth Holmes’ ongoing trial, we are faced with a clear reminder that in the tech industry there is a pervasive preference for crafty marketing over actual results. But then why, when it comes to solving big problems, from health to education, are we always so willing to trust Big Tech?
After moving from American companies to the tech industry to my current role as a leader in racial justice advocacy efforts in education, I have seen firsthand the evil of prioritize flashy promises over real, measured impact and neglect to engage existing expertise.
I also know that we need to reinvent our education system, especially in the STEM fields, to effectively prepare our next generation for the world they will inherit. But I’m not convinced by the seemingly given fact that the tech industry should be the one leading this effort. Support him ? Yes.
With the seemingly exponential demand for individuals capable of filling skilled tech jobs, big tech companies have a natural talent development program to increase tech education. This has resulted in large-scale efforts to provide coding and computer training for K-12 students – from Tim Cook lobbying the White House to make coding compulsory for school curricula to the first investors in Facebook and Dropbox founding Code.org to get computing in public schools. Over the past 10 years, more than 100 million students around the world have participated in Hour of Code, and around 70% of parents now say it is important for their children to study computers.
But we have to be careful not to treat a powerful vision as an accomplishment in itself, like rewarding Elizabeth Holmes with large investments as she donned a Steve Jobs turtleneck and accepted praise for promises that had yet to be made. outfits.
Right now, we have some of the brightest tech minds in the world supporting âinnovativeâ efforts to improve access to tech education. And yet, the populations most likely to benefit from new access routes are always left behind. Since 2009, the percentage of female computer science (CS) students in the United States has increased from 20.7% to 18.7%, and African American female computer science students have fallen by 3%.
Short-term educational interventions – organizations creating free online coding modules, series of mentoring events, or global hackathons – have been very successful in garnering private sector attention and donor investments with a strong image. eye-catching branding.
But when I was a young student with a passion for STEM, while I’m sure I would have greatly appreciated these engagements, the momentary resources did not support my journey from initial interest to a Masters in Mechanical Engineering. in one of the best institutions in the country. .
To accomplish this feat, I needed reliable and accessible educators and professionals who would believe in my potential. It was having a community of peers that could reassure me during difficult times and validate my frustration with constant otherness in predominantly white spaces. And then, at a minimum, I needed access to continuing and rigorous training in STEM and technical resources to complete the missions.
For communities of color, disruptions in the technology pipeline aren’t limited to access to laptops or the availability of AP computing classes. With gaps appearing between high school education, college admissions, and hiring practices at top tech companies, rambling interventions are just band-aiders, even when applied on a large scale.
If the scrutiny that social media giants are currently facing tells us anything, it’s that technology doesn’t erase cultural differences or societal issues – it amplifies them. For the tech industry to invest meaningfully in improving our education system, it must heed this lesson and seek to understand not only what is missing, but also how to meaningfully support existing work in progress. .
At SMASH, a non-profit STEM justice education organization founded in Oakland to bridge the gap in opportunities in technology, 79% of our academics graduate from the program to earn a bachelor’s degree in STEM. Our national average for the same demographic is 39%.
Fellows start with SMASH Academy at the start of their academic career in high school. This is our flagship program that offers multi-year, immersive and culturally relevant STEM education throughout the year and primarily hires instructors of color who are trained to provide technical and professional mentorship – with a focused focus on voice and choice of students. These researchers move in cohorts through the pipeline of programs. High school students are paired with a college admission coach and attend writing and financial aid workshops. Once their university admission is locked down, students are then placed into paid internships and begin to gain work experience with corporate partners like Raytheon.
Long-term educational interventions like this are more expensive, longer, more complex to implement, and ultimately the most effective in actually changing student outcomes.
The good news is that countless community organizations across the country have already laid the groundwork to complement the long-term investment and holistic approach our organization takes.
As long-standing racial and socio-economic divisions in STEM education widen, donors now have a critical role to play. The necessary knowledge and talent are in place to effect the change we all know our nation’s future depends on, but we need to re-direct the available resources to ensure they are able to deliver the full weight of the results upon which they are capable. When determining investments, define and test under stress the impact metrics of potential beneficiaries.
What does success look like? How will the benefits of this program be relevant over the next six months compared to the next four years? Does this initiative substantially address the barriers that inhibit students of color?
Tim Cooks and Mark Zuckerbergs around the world have a part to play in all of this, but their biggest impact could actually be happening outside of a high school computer lab. If these companies are serious about closing the success gaps in public education, we must prioritize technology equity policies and educational programs that deliver tangible results and do more than just create a good story.
This means not only sector-wide advocacy, but also funding for education policies and partnerships with existing community interventions that ensure that more than 20 million black and Latin students in public kindergarten schools to Grade 12 receive culturally relevant computer education and are prepared to contribute materially to a strong, diverse and socially aware technology workforce.
The future of STEM education will not become more equitable by putting the latest technologies in the hands of every student or creating a free coding course, but by already seeing the solutions in front of us and acting on it. Tech companies motivated to help in education shouldn’t fall back on the bad habits of Silicon Valley.
For our young people, we cannot afford to devote the time to solutions that sound good on paper but do not have real impact. Big Tech leaders, this is not a call, but a call. Let’s talk.