Microsoft backs IT education for all youth worldwide

Lindsay James
Lindsay James
By Lindsay James on 17 September 2015
Microsoft backs IT education for all youth worldwide

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has announced an expansion of the YouthSpark programme to increase access to computer science education for all youth worldwide, and especially for those from under-represented backgrounds, with a US$75 million commitment in community investments over the next three years.

As a result, US schools will see particular benefit, with the YouthSpark programme increasing its investment from 131 schools in 18 states to nearly 700 schools in 33 states over the next three years.

“If we are going to solve tomorrow’s global challenges, we must come together today to inspire young people everywhere with the promise of technology,” said Nadella during the announcement. “We can’t leave anyone out.”

Through its global YouthSpark initiative, Microsoft partners with nonprofit organisations, schools, governments and other businesses to make more computer science education courses, trainings and resources available, so that young people can learn the computational thinking and problem-solving skills that will help them today and in the future.

Via the Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) programme,  volunteers from the technology industry are needed to team-teach computer science to 30,000 students, a message Nadella shared during the annual Dreamforce conference hosted by Salesforce, where he called upon thousands of tech professionals to serve as TEALS volunteers.

Since the programme began in 2009, “We’ve had an amazing response from schools and teachers, as well as volunteers from across the industry, without which none of this would be possible,” says Kevin Wang, the very first volunteer, and the founder of TEALS who works for Microsoft.

Boston technology teacher Ingrid Roche says TEALS volunteers are superb. “Either that, or they’re magically phenomenal,” she says. “They have a ton of knowledge, and they are able to share it with me and the students without being condescending in any way, or judgmental.”

Roche teaches at the Boston Latin Academy, part of Boston Public Schools. The school has about 1,700 students in grades 7-12. The student population reflects the area’s diversity – including students who are black, white, Latino and Asian.

TEALS volunteers, Roche says, “have a sensitivity” to students from different backgrounds.

“That’s really helpful with TEALS having that on their radar,” Roche says. “If it’s always the student who went to computing summer camp raising his hand in class every single time, if he always gets called on – he’s going to get better, and the others won’t.”

By taking a TEALS class, Victoria Tran of San Francisco, and the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, learned about career paths she might not otherwise have considered – or been self-assured enough to try.

“I’m getting better and better. I feel more confident in my abilities. I’ve never been so sure of myself and what I can do,” says Tran, who is contemplating majoring in computer science or electrical engineering in college.

In the state of Washington, TEALS is in its second year at the public International School in Bellevue, where teacher Janet Roberts has been working with TEALS volunteers to teach computer science.

“I have some ancient programming experience in Fortran, and without the expertise of the TEALS people, it would have been very difficult to launch this course,” says Roberts, who also teaches math.

The TEALS volunteers, Roberts says, “have been amazing, dedicated and patient” in working with both her and the students. Last year, there were two classes in AP Computer Science offered, with 55 students in both classes at the high school, which has about 300 students.

Joey Cannon, 18, took the TEALS class last year at the International School and is helping with it this year as a teacher’s assistant.

Without the TEALS program, he says, the school’s AP Computer Science class “wouldn’t be possible,” Joey says. “Even if we just had one teacher who knew all of it really well, it would have been hard for them to be able to provide all the help that students needed.”

Making computer science education the rule and not the exception is achievable, but it takes everyone’s help. Says TEALS founder Wang: “We need to get to a point where computer science classes are offered alongside other classes like biology, chemistry and physics. We have a long road ahead of us. Microsoft is sort of seeding this investment, but in order for this problem to be solved, we’ve got to have everybody joining us.

“You can think of this is as a movement, and Microsoft is supporting a movement,” Wang says. TEALS “is really there to help our local schools, all of our local schools, wherever they may be, to prepare our kids to make sure they’re ready for what comes next, no matter what they do with their lives.”

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