Through a number of policy measures the United States seeks to expand tech competitiveness. However the majority of our future workforce, middle, high school and college students, lack tech access, meaningful tech education and face increasing tech-driven marginalization.
Millions of students across the country live in what has been termed STEM deserts – school communities without access to rigorous and engaging math and science courses. Black, Latino, low-income students in urban centers and rural areas are most likely to live in STEM deserts.
Lack of STEM access is a critical equity issue in education, particularly for students in urban and rural communities, where access to high-level math and science courses is often out of reach. A small percentage of schools across the country offer computer science instructors and well-equipped technology labs.
Soon, the impact of students living in STEM deserts will not only be reflected in those students’ high school and college competition rates, but will also take a toll on the country’s economic competitiveness technological leadership and national security.
The US Senate recently passed the US innovation and competition Act of 2021 a $250 billion bill focused on investments in the technology sector with the aim of bolstering the country’s global competitiveness in advanced technological development. The bill also provides directive for an overhaul of the National Science Foundation a federal agency that promotes and advances scientific research. Though a quarter of trillion in US-backed tech investment is nothing to sneeze at, China’s investments far exceeds that of the US. China has a massive plan to surpass the US as a premier tech producer 2050. According to an analysis by the FBI, China allocated 15 percent of its gross domestic product on improving human resources from 2008 to 2020. China has already exceeded many strategic priorities for recruitment in foreign talent and state-backed venture capital investments. Comparatively the US innovation and competition Act of 2021 is a drop in the bucket representing a little over 1% of US GDP. https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2019-11-18%20PSI%20Staff%20Report%20-%20China’s%20Talent%20Recruitment%20Plans.pdf
Investment in developing and recruiting STEM must include significantly more funding and investments in education and technology access for all citizens. 17 million Americans lack access to broadband technology. And millions more are “under-connected” with limited access to devices or unreliable broadband access. According to a report by New America the majority of students learning remotely this year experienced disruptions in their education due to being under-connected. More than half (53 percent) of remote students experienced one of the following disruptions at some point during the past year.
Funding should include support and rewards for entities working to improve equity in STEM access. Including local and state government agencies as well all community based organizations, businesses. As explained in a 2019 Code.org Advocacy Coalition report: in most states, computer science is a new subject. In order to make computer science a fundamental part of the education system, states will need to create roadmaps to address a number of policy and implementation issues. The plan should articulate the goals for computer science, strategies for accomplishing the goals, and timelines for carrying out the strategies. Equitable access to K–12 computer science must be at the foundation of a state’s plan.
Data clearly shows that underrepresented minority students and rural students are less likely to have access to high-quality computer science content. If unaddressed, we will continue to exclude entire populations from this fast-growing field and miss out on the innovations and contributions that diversity promotes.
While academics continuously conduct advocacy and research around computer science access efforts to to date lack engagement of parents and communities. Students’ communities are the the environment in which students live, play and socialize. These environments play a major role in student success in STEM. Community-based organizations have a large role to play here. They are on the frontlines of filling gaps in public services. They provide safe spaces for children after school, with homework and tutoring support. They connect families job training and social benefits. While there are some successful partnerships between schools and CBOs providing supplemental tech training, these relationships are not institutionalized and lack sustainable funding needed for such collaborations.
A Note on the Infrastructure Bill
The 1.4 trillion infrastructure bill that President Biden hopes to get through Congress is supposed to expand job creation and generate opportunities across many industries, however, our failure to prepare students in high school
The infrastructure bill is expected to expand access to broadband for communities with limited or no connectivity. The paradox here is that among the industries to be tapped to complete this work, there is a labor crisis due to the rapidly dwindling workforce to complete the work outlined in the bill.
US News. The US Must Address Disparities in Access to STEM Education. (2017)
US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs
Staff Report: Threats to the US Research Enterprise: China’s Takent Recruitment Program
Advocacy.org 2019 State of Computer Science