Stopping the Tech Diversity Gap Where It Starts: Elementary School

As technology advances, it redefines the skills needed to succeed. To meet this new standard, we must change what and how we teach our students, and in the process, ready them for jobs we could never dream of having. Currently, that means redefining the “fundamentals” of a public education.

While reading, writing and math skills will always be fundamental, so now is computer science. More and more of the high-paying, high-tech jobs coming to economic hubs like Atlanta are requiring a deep understanding of computers: not just how to use them, but how to communicate with them. How to identify a problem and code a solution that a computer will understand.

As we prepare students for success in the economy of the future, we have a responsibility to make sure every child has access to a forward-thinking, formative education. Access to an education that prepares students for the jobs of the future should not depend on their socioeconomic background or the neighborhood they live in.

However, in many public elementary schools across the nation, computer science education is treated as an elective, but not necessary. The students who do tend to pick up these vital skills are born into more affluent, mostly white families who can afford personal computers and private coding classes and summer camps.

This diversity gap that starts in elementary school continues into AP computer science courses in high school, degree programs in college and recruitment at the world’s most influential tech companies. In 2017, only 23 percent of AP computer science exams were taken by female students20 percent by underrepresented minorities. However, women who try AP computer science in high school are 10 times more likely to major in it in college, and Black and Hispanic students are seven times more likely.

What can we do to make sure that all children, including black and brown children, have an equal opportunity to succeed in this field? We can start by making sure that every student, in every elementary school, has mandatory core courses in computer science, because it is the skills learned in these early grades that begin charting a pathway for success in high school and beyond.

At Resurgence Hall, we’ve learned that it’s never too early for kids to begin learning computer science. At our elementary charter public school in Atlanta, where 99 percent of students are black and brown with 75 percent qualifying for free and reduced lunch, kindergarten students start at a foundational level, spending 120 minutes a week in computer science. Here, they learn the basics, ranging from how to turn on and off a computer, to investigating different problem-solving techniques, to creating loops and events, and more.

Once in 5th grade, students spend 60 minutes a day in a comprehensive computer science class, studying everything from computer machinery and coding, to security concerns and ethics around computer use.

Our students have latched on to this new component in their education, so much so that we’ve added elective courses where they can do a deep dive into up and coming areas of tech, including robotics and wearable technology. We created our curriculum with the goal of providing a strong elementary foundation in computer science so that students are prepared for more advanced work in high school and beyond, and we aim to give them the same opportunity and access as other students in more affluent neighborhoods. By providing core instruction in computer science, starting in Kindergarten, we build a better, brighter future for us all.

Tori Jackson Hines is the founder and executive director of Resurgence Hall Charter School in Atlanta, Georgia. 


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