Why community-focused education is key to building a more inclusive tech landscape

Two years ago, the Governor’s Workforce Council unveiled its Workforce Strategic Plan – a coordinated, statewide strategy for Connecticut to build an equitable, inclusive and innovative workforce that meets the needs of today’s economy.

According to the plan, there were 6,000 open computer jobs in the state, with a future need of 13,000 jobs. However, Connecticut colleges and universities only completed 564 computer science majors in 2020. We’re looking for colleges to produce talent, but they’re not getting enough applicants who want to study computer science. There aren’t enough kids in the suburbs to fill those gaps, even if they choose computer science.

As noted by the National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, computer science has been predominantly white males for the past decade. In our cities, our largest demographics (black and brown college students) rarely field at all.

Why not? Prior to 2019, Connecticut public high schools employed only two computer science teachers statewide. Students in most public schools do not have sufficient access to specific skills development or employment opportunity counseling to even consider it as a way forward for their future. But the existing narrative surrounding computer science is also a barrier that encourages the assumption that the path is socio-economically predetermined.

It’s like the industry is dying of scurvy. The environment can’t grow lemons so they try to import them – but can’t do it fast enough. But there are linden trees everywhere that do not bear fruit because no one cares about the soil on which they grow.

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Limes can provide vitamin C just as well as lemons. Industry and government need to address this now, not in the next growing season. They need to look ahead to the next 10 growing seasons and determine what components need to be added to the soil immediately, including funding and support.

The Synchrony Foundation’s partnership with DAE, the University of Connecticut Engineering Ambassadors and Future5 at Stamford is a step towards improving soil conditions. The unique program equips high school students from underrepresented backgrounds with digital and software skills.

The program’s first graduating class in June included three young women who had never programmed before they were offered this opportunity. All three graduated from high school at the same time and are now majoring in computer science. Now there is evidence that the revitalized soil produces limes.

Creating an environment in which healthy plants can grow is quite a complex matter and depends on many climatic conditions in addition to the soil, such as: B. the water quality for irrigation, solar radiation and ozone levels, air quality, etc. This also applies to the children. It’s not just about the technical skills; their emotional, social and nutritional needs must also be met. Understanding and addressing all of this with a statewide program would not be effective as each community has a different climate with different implications for student success.

DAE’s New Haven and Stamford models are very different. The daily curriculum and interactions are the same, but our approach is unique as each city has its own climate. Stamford is a business town where children are more exposed to industry. New Haven is very multicultural with a robust social conscience. Humanity’s problems cannot be solved at scale, they must be solved at the point of confrontation with community-based approaches. At the local level, all stakeholders need to be involved – parents, the school district, local government, non-profit organizations and advocacy groups.

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How do you take the first step? It is not about launching an initiative, forming an action committee or devising a strategy. Listening is the best way to start, just as learning the conditions of a climate is important long before the seed is sown.


am bhatt is the Founder and CEO of DAE, a Connecticut nonprofit that democratizes access to 21st century digital career and life skills for students and young adults from communities that have been historically and systematically underserved. For more information visit

www.myDAE.org

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