Teaching our kids about technology will secure our economic future
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This month, a new administration will take office, bringing with it the appointments of new cabinet members seeking to make marked change to federal programs. The presidential campaign was full of promises to do things differently, remove the status quo and drain the Beltway of insiders.

While this can be concerning, even troubling, to those waiting to see how these differences play out, all of this can potentially lead to a positive shift in how we address education at the federal level.

Tasked with promoting student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness, the U.S. Department of Education serves to provide quality education to one of our most vulnerable constituencies—our children.

The ways our decision makers shape future education models will be critically important. Today, we must take into consideration what is happening globally, whether we are placing enough emphasis on the trades, and whether the right people are involved in laying out the teaching constructs in our K-12 system.

A new administration means new opportunity. And as technology changes and industries advance, so too must our education system in order to prepare the next generation workforce. What are we doing to prepare students for jobs of the future—jobs that may not even exist yet—that require technologies we have yet to discover, in order to solve problems we are not even aware of?

Accordingly, programs need to be flexible, allowing teachers to approach learning from new and thought provoking ways. Through industry exposure, a focus on technical trades and integration of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning, for example, educators can employ applied learning methods to connect students with real world experiences.

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Technology advancements have long been blamed for displacing traditional jobs. Take, for example, the cotton gin, the automotive assembly line, and even the introduction of IBM at NASA. Today’s advancements are happening at a much quicker pace. We need to prepare students to take on new challenges and adapt to new ways of doing things.

Rather than seeing technology as a threat to traditional employment, we need to be teaching our students to understand these technologies and how to work with them. We need to continue to develop critical thinkers who will drive the future economy and U.S. global competitiveness.

Yet, only 40 percent of schools in the U.S. report having computer science programs, through classes or clubs, neither of which are required curriculum, according to Gallup. However, programs such as Code.org are working with middle and high schools across the country to expand access to computer science programs for students. Facebook, Microsoft and other leading technology powerhouses lend support for this program that is teaching coding to a future base of this growing workforce.

Other organizations, such as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, are dedicated to changing the way classrooms are structured, with an emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving, in addition to traditional academic curriculum. Through deeper learning, students are able to tackle real world situations using skills and knowledge learned from subjects, such as math and science, while working together with their peers to develop solutions.

It is in this vein that the business community can become actively involved. To support the transfer of applied learning, the business community cannot stand idle and expect the system to produce the necessary workforce. The dialogue needs to be opened with businesses and the K-12 system, much like what exists today with community colleges and universities, to help guide and develop programs.

Instead of widening the gap of what students are learning, and what they need to be prepared for the real world, businesses can be proactive by working with school boards, superintendents and principals by supporting and calling for programs and curriculum around applied learning, STEM integration and innovation in the classroom.

A shift in our focus from preparing students for test taking and college entrance needs to occur. We will better serve our students by preparing them for innovation, and a 21st century global economy, making them ready to take on in-demand jobs. The incoming administration has the chance to address the economy and employment in a meaningful way with actual reforms on education models. That is what comprehensive change looks like.

Chris Camacho is president and chief executive officer of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. He serves on the boards for the Arizona Business Education Council and the Economic Innovation Group Policy Council.


The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.