Oct 31 2006

How Teaching About Technology Maintains A Competitive Workforce

To compete in a global society, we need a skilled workforce. And that means we have to educate all students, not just those born with advantages.

Making Choices: Technology Can Open Doors
Life took an unexpected detour last year for about a dozen girls in one of Los Angeles’ poorest neighborhoods: A teacher at their school opened their eyes to the power of technology.

The teacher, a former programmer in her homeland of India, recruited Latinas and African-Americans for her Advanced Placement computer science class. In doing so, she opened the doors to a skill that will shape this century’s leaders in virtually every industry.

The following fall, her class was canceled. With a shortage of certified math teachers, the principal had no choice but to take her off computer science duty to teach extra math classes.

It’s alarming that our schools need to make such either/or choices.  

Still Fighting for Rights

This spring marks the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. The decision speaks of education as a fundamental right and says that educating our children is one of the most important functions of government. Yet, here we are in a new century, and we still have failing schools. And we’re still fighting over school funding.

Technology is a tool. It can never replace solid instruction, but it’s playing a larger role in our society every day.

Just about every professional job requires a certain degree of technology skill. Technology has permeated the worlds of personal finance, government services and the media.

It’s challenging enough to participate in society today without computer skills. Imagine what it will be like 10 or 20 years from now, when today’s children enter the workforce without the necessary technology skills to be successful.

We must put our collective heads together and find ways to fund resources — from textbooks to technology to teachers — so that we can educate all our students. It’s time to stop fighting and start cooperating for the sake of our children.

Skilled Workforce Is Essential

Parents and students in California grew tired of watching their schools fail, so they filed suit against the state, and now they have the law on their side. (See “Digital Civil Rights ” on page 34.) But parents and students shouldn’t have to fight for textbooks, computers and teachers. That should be a given. Principals shouldn’t have to choose between math teachers and computer teachers. Schools should have both.

This isn’t just about individual rights. It’s about the health of our nation.

To compete in a global society, we need a skilled workforce, and today’s students are tomorrow’s gross national product. As minorities continue to make up a growing percentage of our nation’s population, it becomes even more essential to heed the words of the Brown decision to educate all students, not just those born with advantages.

Gaining A Lifelong Competitive Edge

That Advanced Placement computer science class in the Los Angeles school district could have a lasting, positive impact on those dozen young women. Whether or not they decide to go into the field of information technology, those students have been introduced to skills that have the potential to provide a lifelong competitive edge. All our students deserve the same opportunity.

It’s time that we as a nation — from legislators to parents to principals to business leaders — stop passing the buck and find a way to work together to open these doors to students around the nation.

Chris Rother is vice president, public sector, for Vernon Hills, Ill.-based CDW•G, a leading technology provider to government and education. She is a passionate advocate for enhancing the educational experience with technology.