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The Imperative of Making STEM Education Accessible to All

In a world where most jobs already require technical skills, a majority of students still aren’t learning the relevant content in school, largely due to structural and societal barriers. As a result, millions of jobs are going unfilled.
3 Abr 2019 – 05:31 PM EDT
STEM education = Science Technology Engineering Mathematics. Crédito: Wittayayut/Getty Images/iStockphoto

I grew up in a connected and tech-forward immigrant household. Both my parents were college educated in technical fields. Access to the latest computers and devices, including dial-up internet, was at my fingertips. Unfortunate, among my hispanic peers, I was an exception—and I still am.

Just last week, I traveled to Los Angeles for the launch of a new program to increase the accessibility of computer science education to Latinos and Black students at an early age. We spent the day at the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, where the majority of the students don’t have English as a first language, don’t have parents like mine to serve as role models, and may not—as easily as I could—dream the dreams that I was able to aspire to from the earliest years.

I have been working at Google since 2011. Here, I have learned that the best way to see problems and build solutions is through a workforce that represents the people we are building and solving for. In addition to hiring the best talent, we strive to increase the diversity of perspectives, ideas, and cultures in our workforce: ultimately, it leads to the creation of better products and services. Unfortunately, as our diversity numbers show year after year, we have a long road ahead of us.

As part of our efforts to build a more diverse workforce for the future, we must focus on the current reality of millions of underserved kids. In a world where most jobs already require technical skills, a majority of students still aren’t learning the relevant content in school, largely due to structural and societal barriers.

As a result, millions of jobs are going unfilled.

There is no lack of interest in CS Education among minorities: computers are cool regardless of your race, gender or socioeconomic background. The problem is that most disadvantaged youth, particularly Black and Latino youth, don’t have equal access to the learning opportunities that would allow them to engage.

For example, high-poverty and high-minority schools offer AP Computer Science A at a rate 12x lower than low-poverty and low-minority schools. The lack of role models, and the scarcity of learning materials that reflect their lived experiences augments the problem, by limiting the conscious and subconscious decisions kids make about the types of careers they will consider pursuing when they grow older. Today, too few minorities are choosing computer science.

According to the National Science Foundation, Latinos constitute 16 percent of the U.S. workforce, but make up only 6 percent of the U.S. science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce. This disparity is also leaving the Latino community behind by limiting access to a more prosperous future in one of the most valuable sectors of the modern American industry. This “missing workforce” could further preexisting and historical inequalities.

In recent years, there has been growing investments towards making STEM education more accessible and equitable for everyone, and I am proud to be part of this growing drumbeat of support. After nearly a year working to identify the best partners and the best programmatic structures, last week we announced a new, $25 million dollar initiative from to increase Black and Latino students’ access to computer science education across the United States. And as part of that, we made a $5 million grant to UnidosUS, the YWCA and the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, which we expect, will impact 1 million students and their families by 2022.

Our approach is to target both structural and societal barriers to CS education. We will work with partners to make CS curricula, such as Google’s free coding curriculum CS First , more readily accessible for Latinos in the classroom, and after school, and to enhance our partner’s STEM programs.

We’ll also work to ensure that Spanish content is designed to engage parents and drive understanding of the relevance of coding, make CS more culturally relevant to the students, and eliminate language as a barrier. Above all, we must work to present Latino youth with more role models that look like them, sound like them, and have similar lived experiences to them in order to show them that they too belong in tech.

There are many Latinos like me at Google making way. Together, we all can do more.