Is Educational Technology a Solution to Partisan Panic?

Education is constantly in a state of change. I’m finding that currently, the political pendulum is swinging away from valuing the use of technology in schools; the reason being that the Obama-era incentive of funding technology in schools has “not done enough to improve test scores,” therefore deeming it a waste of money. While I could go on and on about the hypocrisy of holding public schools to high-stakes testing standards (and comparing these results to global competitors who only test their best and brightest), and how unfair it is to strip students of a (technology) rich public education, only to hand off said money to charter and home schools who have  zero accountability procedures in place (so testing doesn’t matter now?), I am going to instead focus on an issue that could potentially change the partisan conversation on technology in schools.

I remember sitting on a technology implementation committee at my previous job and suggesting that, since we already had a required computer course (mostly typing and powerpoint), maybe we try to incorporate the hour of code initiative, a non-profit that’s mission is to make coding fun and accessible to younger generations. While surrounded by amazing, progressive people, my idealism was essentially laughed at and the conversation was quickly turned back to the type of tablet we were going to purchase for the district. While I poke fun at the lack of progressive thinking here, I cannot praise this small school district of approximately 600 students enough for valuing the exposure of it’s students to technology by spending money on it in the first place. You see, not only is technology engaging for students, it also opens them up to a whole new kind of literacy. And, make no mistake, technological literacy is the future. Sure, I’m not bringing anything new to the table here, but I’m not sure if people really believe this when they hear it or even say it. Or, they at least aren’t sure what it looks like.

I recently read an article from Wired called “The Next Blue-Collar Job is Coding”. The title speaks for itself, but I encourage you to check it out. In it, Clive Thompson makes the case that people often view coding as something reserved for the likes of ivy-league technological revolutionaries with billion dollar net-worths such as the Zuckerburgs or Spiegels of the world. This is simply not true. The article suggests that coding should be recognized as a skill that could change the way we look at expanding the middle-class job market. As Thompson says:

“These sorts of coders won’t have the deep knowledge to craft wild new algorithms for flash trading or neural networks. Why would they need to? That level of expertise is rarely necessary at a job. But any blue-collar coder will be plenty qualified to sling Java­Script for their local bank. That’s a solidly middle-class job, and middle-class jobs are growing: The national average salary for IT jobs is about $81,000 (more than double the national average for all jobs), and the field is set to expand by 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than most other occupations.”

Based on these statistics alone, it’s obvious that IT is the most lucrative job market in America. So why are people like Missouri Governor Eric Greitens who ran, like so many politicians do, on job growth, but is now cutting funding for both higher education and investment in startups?

It goes without saying that job growth might be the number one economic issue for any country. And what’s the number one threat to job growth in our country? Contrary to many Americans’ beliefs, it is not immigration, but automatization. Machines. Computers. Technology.

The answer is staring us in the face, people. So why not look to coding as an option in a time where technology is becoming our job market? Why not look to coding when many in our country are panicked about the loss of blue-collar industry jobs, while just as many are panicked about these industries wrecking our environment? Cybersecurity– another issue plaguing our times and headlines–has become more and more apparent as seen through the 2016 election and through the obvious fact that so many of our household devices (at our convenience and concern) connect to the internet.

This leads back to my initial point about technology education. With job growth, automatization, and cybersecurity all current issues, shouldn’t we be training our future generations how to tap the job market by assuaging these concerns? As Thompson points out, coding could easily be incorporated as an elective in high school or taken as a course at a community college. Yet another generational concern of overwhelming college debt could be minimized by basic html classes. Jobs could be created at just about any business requiring any basic online content, or is in need of cybersecurity, such as a bank.

Education is constantly changing. Technology is constantly changing. Our job market and economy is constantly changing. Maybe we should be more receptive about coding as our country’s evolution amidst our state of constant change. Instead of cutting funding for educational technology, maybe we need to use that money for more effective technology instruction that will come in handy to any generation entering the workforce within the next decade.

Like Thompson says “. . . the real heroes are people who go to work every day and turn out good stuff—whether it’s cars, coal, or code.”  The measure of a truly great country is the size of its middle class, the cornerstone free, indiscriminate, public education of every class.  I think it’s time to give power back to the real heroes here. I think it’s time for our public and our public education to give educational technology and coding a real chance.

*Image and more information from Graphite Publications who also wrote on this issue.

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