A Diverse Tech Industry Begins with Education and Empowerment

A Diverse Tech Industry Begins with Education and Empowerment

Posted on May 28, 2024 0 Comments

How can we encourage and empower kids to pursue careers in STEM?

Last month, Progress had the privilege to sponsor and attend Kids in Tech’s Pathways to Success Dinner & Awards. The event honored community changemakers who embody Kids in Tech’s (KIT) mission: to excite, educate and empower children from low-income families throughout Massachusetts to learn about technology, explore engineering concepts and embrace future opportunities in STEM.

As the evening spotlighted the value of STEM education for children, it raised a question: What is the state of STEM education in the US, particularly computer science (CS) education? As we see the tech industry continuously transform and expand, are we giving all children a fair shot at entering the field with the skills and knowledge they need? And how can we better encourage and empower kids to pursue careers in STEM?

The State of Computer Science Education in High Schools

According to the 2023 State of Computer Science Education, 2023 saw the largest growth in the percentage of US high schools offering foundational CS since 2018. Although this sounds promising, a closer look at the report shows that more work is needed.

Across 35 states where data is available, only 5.8% of high school students are enrolled in foundational CS. Black/African American students, Hispanic/Latino/Latina/Latinx students, and Native American/Alaskan students are less likely to attend a school that offers foundational CS. And nationally, multilingual learners, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students are underrepresented in foundational CS compared to their overall population.

And while CS may be available at a school, it isn’t necessarily a graduation requirement. For example, in Massachusetts, 83% of high schools offer CS, but it’s not required for graduation.

What About Middle Schools and Elementary Schools?

The earlier kids can be made aware of career opportunities in STEM, the better. So, how early are most children getting exposed to computer science? The 2023 State of Computer Science Education report found that in 31 states, at least 45% of public middle schools teach foundational CS. Nineteen of those 31 states were able to provide middle school-specific enrollment, which showed 6.4% of middle school students were enrolled in foundational CS.

Interestingly, there seems to be a gender divide in CS classes once students reach high school. As noted in the report, “across all demographics, middle school computer science is more representative than high school computer science. This is perhaps most notable with gender: at the middle school level, 44% of enrolled students are young women, compared with only 31% at the high school level.”

While middle school data is available, elementary school data is lacking. Only seven states collect data at the elementary level. Of those states, at least 36% of schools teach foundational CS with 11.3% of elementary students taking foundational CS.

Encouraging Kids’ Interest in STEM

Although there has been an increase in schools across the US offering CS, there are still disparities regarding who is enrolling in these classes. Some schools may not offer these courses, some students may not feel encouraged to take a class, and some may not see the value because CS is not a graduation requirement. Whatever the reason may be, there are still a few things adults can do to increase students’ interest in and passion for STEM.

1. Gift a coding game

When holidays or birthdays come around, instead of giving the student in your life the most popular toy, opt for something STEM related.

A simple online search will lead to a handful of great ideas. Feel free to start with the following:

2. Seek out after-school STEM programs or summer camps

After-school STEM programs are a great way to surround students with peers who have the same interest in STEM.

If you’re based in Massachusetts, Kids in Tech is a great organization. Other examples include STEM Ecosystems, Code Ninjas, Technovation Girls, Black Girls Code and iD Tech.

3. Help them see themselves in the field

We’ve heard this phrase often and that’s because it’s true: representation matters.

Kids, tweens and teens must see themselves represented in a field to feel like they belong.

MassTLC reported that about 76% of Massachusetts’ nearly 500,000 tech workers in 2022 were white, compared to nearly 70% of the state's overall population. Meanwhile, the shares of the tech workforce that were Black and Hispanic were 4% and 5%, respectively—less than half of statewide levels. Additionally, 70% were men and 30% were women.

If your child does not see themselves in tech, find people they can look up to. Below are a few names to help you get started.

1) Dr. Joy Buolamwini: Best-selling author of Unmasking AI: My Mission to Protect What is Human in a World of Machines. She is an AI researcher, artist and advocate. She founded the Algorithmic Justice League to create a world with more equitable and accountable technology.

2) Diana Trujillo: Aerospace engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). She is a flight director and the robotic arm system domain lead for the Mars Perseverance mission.

3) Luis von Ahn: Co-founder and CEO of the language-learning website and mobile app, Duolingo. He is also the co-creator of CAPTCHA, a service that protects websites from spam.

4) Kate Crawford: Co-founder of New York University's AI Now Institute. In her research, Crawford seeks to understand the benefits and dangers of AI and machine learning in the broader context of history, politics, labor, the environment and other sectors. Her insight has led to advisory roles to policymakers at the United Nations and the White House.

5) Dr. Mark E. Dean: An American computer scientist and engineer who is credited with the development of the Industry Standard Architecture system bus, color PC monitor and the first-ever gigahertz chip.

Let’s follow Kids in Tech’s example to excite, educate and empower children to pursue STEM. There are small things we can do to support their interests and encourage them to stick with STEM, and, quite frankly, we need to. Tech is an ever-changing industry, and we need diverse perspectives in the field for the benefit of everyone.

If you’re interested in learning about how Progress supports STEM education, check out our 2023 CSR Report.

Danielle Sutherby of Progress

Danielle Sutherby

Danielle Sutherby is a marketing communications manager at Progress, where she supports Progress’ employer brand efforts, raises awareness of the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) and inclusion and diversity (I&D) efforts, assists in PR activities, and strategizes employee engagement activities worldwide. Danielle is also the co-founder of the first employee resource group at Progress, Progress for Her, which aims to empower women at the company by providing leadership and networking opportunities. When she is not at work, you can find her writing, reading, or acting like a tourist in her own city.


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