Mar 01 2022

Tech Leads the Way to Equitable Education for K–12 Students

Mentors and STEM leaders connect with tech to bring lessons on science, technology, engineering and math to students.

The recent rise in educational technology has allowed K–12 students to become more connected than ever before, despite being physically farther apart. This is partially due to an increased focus on connectivity for students at school and at home, as — even at the state level — leaders are working to get learners online. Additionally, the increase in technology has broken down geographical barriers that formerly determined how students could learn. From virtual field trips to specialized classes, ed tech is taking students all over the world.

In Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s 2021 Educator Confidence Report, 56 percent of educators noted that ed tech resulted in an improved ability for students to access instructional content anytime, anywhere. Not only is this increased access helping students learn, it is also making education more equitable.

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Educational technology is providing students with opportunities they never had before. It’s connecting them with one another, but it’s also connecting tutors and new learning opportunities to students and their communities.

Bringing STEM Opportunities to Underserved K–12 Students

Before Dr. Bernard Harris went to space, he didn’t have any examples of astronauts who looked like him.

“When I looked at NASA and I saw who was the best of the best, it didn’t include people of color. It didn’t include women,” says Dr. Harris, former NASA flight surgeon. “Since working at NASA, I know that there were women and there were people of color behind the scenes along the way, but they were not on camera.”

After completing his extraterrestrial mission and becoming himself the example he couldn’t find when he was younger, Dr. Harris, who now works as the CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative, made it his terrestrial mission to inspire students in underserved communities to follow STEM pathways.

RELATED: Mobile STEM labs bring lessons to K–12 classrooms.

“I’ve always wanted to make sure that I inspired young people to follow in my footsteps, but more important, to do whatever it is that they want to do,” he says. “So for a long time, probably for 30 years or so, I’ve been involved in primary and secondary education programs that promote STEM education.”

Technology is a crucial component in allowing Dr. Harris to bring STEM to students across the country. It not only connects him with students he wouldn’t otherwise be able to meet, but also plays a large role in his work and how he sees the future of education.

Dr. Bernard Harris, astronaut and CEO
Going forward, education is going to require blended learning, where we do face-to-face teaching but also do virtual.”

Dr. Bernard Harris CEO, National Math and Science Initiative

“Going forward, education is going to require blended learning, where we do face-to-face teaching but also do virtual,” he says. “So, we’re going to have to blend those methods of teaching to be effective.”

Creating Equitable Opportunities Through Networking and Mentorship

Technology also helps Patrice Scully, a retired IBM data manager and AI expert, expose high school students to STEM careers. Today, she works to mentor students and connect K–12 districts with local colleges to promote different fields of study.

She’s worked with ninth grade honors math students at St. Vincent Academy in Newark, N.J., for more than ten years. She brings college students from the New Jersey Institute of Technology who are majoring in engineering and other STEM disciplines to speak with St. Vincent students, who otherwise would have few opportunities to learn about these fields.

“One year, I got a note from the teacher that nine of the 23 girls I’d spoken to as freshmen had decided to major in engineering in college,” she says.

WATCH NOW: 3D printers allow students with disabilities to advance their tech skills.

Scully uses technology to stay in touch with the educators and, sometimes, with the students themselves. Rather than giving out her personal information, she uses mentoring software to contact high school students, but connects with mentees and young colleagues on LinkedIn and via Zoom.

Being able to connect with young learners and provide mentorship is important to her, Scully says. More experienced employees at IBM mentored her when she began her career, a path she chose after taking a single programming class in high school.

“When I was a senior in high school in the late ’70s, they had a one semester programming course,” she says. “For me, personally, that changed my whole trajectory. I then went on to college, studied computer science, started with IBM and had a 40-year career.”

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