The tech divide: An opportunity gap schools must close
By Robert Baker
Computer programming is growing at twice the average rate of national job growth according to Code.org —and by 2020 there could be nearly a million more IT jobs than U.S. college graduates available to fill them, representing a $500 billion economic opportunity waiting to be realized.
Living in Silicon Valley, I see firsthand the impact that technology skills make on one’s earning potential. Often times a college graduate with an IT degree can find a job with a six-figure salary right out of college.
Growing up with access to technology, and the opportunity to learn key IT skills such as coding and app development, gives students a huge economic advantage over their peers. But these opportunities too often are defined by a student’s family income.
While 90 percent of families with household incomes above $100,000 have broadband access at home, only 64 percent of those with incomes between $20,000 and $29,000 have home broadband, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Schools not only have an opportunity, but an obligation, to be the technology equalizer that levels the playing field for all students—but too often, we see a similar divide between schools in wealthier and poorer neighborhoods.
While virtually all schools have basic hardware and connectivity, there is a sharp contrast between those that have the high-speed wireless connections that can support devices for every student, and those that lack this sophisticated technology infrastructure. There is also a knowledge gap between schools that have savvy instructors who can teach students IT skills such as coding and app development, and schools without this expertise on their staff.
We need to do everything possible to get technology in front of more kids at an earlier age, accompanied by curriculum that teaches them coding and other IT skills. Fortunately, there are movements under way to help bring these skills to more students.
A growing number of states have passed laws allowing computer science to count toward math or science credits needed for graduation. Code.org offers free local and online workshops, curriculum, and instructional videos to help schools teach computer programming. Other nonprofit organizations, such as Yellow Circle, offer free online environments for students to learn IT-related skills.
Of course, none of these resources will do any good if students aren’t connected or don’t have access to devices.
Although 2014 marked the first time that the number of apps in the Google Play store exceeded the volume in Apple’s App Store, many app developers recommend starting with iOS first as their platform of choice. “It’s my contention that iOS development is quite a bit easier,” writes programmer David Bolton.
Add in the fact that Apple currently has a 90-percent share of the tablet market in schools, according to education research firm MDR, it’s clear that Apple’s platform is an important tool for students to gain exposure to.
But Apple devices also are more expensive than devices with similar specifications running on other platforms, which raises a significant question: How can schools in economically disadvantaged communities afford these tools?
That’s where companies like Mac to School help. We enable schools to save on the cost of high-quality Apple equipment by reconditioning and recertifying used iPads, iMacs, and MacBooks and selling them to educational facilities for a fraction of the cost of new machines.
Schools can purchase up to four times the equipment by purchasing recertified devices, which allows them to put that extra money toward wireless infrastructure, teacher training, and other essential ed-tech needs.
Given the huge demand for IT-related employees, and the technology divide that exists between wealthy and poor communities, there is both an economic need and a moral imperative to expose all students to technology skills at a young age—regardless of their ZIP Code or their parents’ income level.
Technology is a gateway to future success, but students from impoverished areas will need access to the same tools and devices if they are to be given the same opportunities as their peers from wealthier families—and schools have a critical role to play in ensuring these opportunities for all students.
Robert Baker is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Mac to School, which buys, sells, and recertifies Apple equipment for education.