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Ashton: While 5G is coming to our cell phones, our schools are stuck in 2G. 3 ways to help give our kids a cutting-edge education

Mashea Ashton | August 19, 2019

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Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The newest craze in tech is 5G wireless speeds. All the major carriers are racing to be the first to upgrade their coverage speed, investing up to $1 trillion to develop infrastructure for nationwide 5G by 2020. But while our nation focuses on developing cutting-edge cell speed, we’re leaving behind a far more important need: preparing our students for the new economy.

As we steadily become more digital, the need for computer-savvy job candidates continues to grow, yet almost 50 percent of students still have no access to computer science courses in school. America is creating a 5G network, but we’re not developing a 5G workforce — it’s like creating a highway system without teaching driver’s ed.

While many schools struggle with the cost of teaching their students basic computer science skills, more than 500,000 programming and computer science jobs are sitting unfilled for lack of qualified applicants, with that number projected to reach the millions by 2024. These are desirable jobs — according to a Payscale report, the average software developer earns about $90,000 by midcareer. Students who study computer science, coding, robotics and similar fields will reap the benefits of an upgraded cell grid and create the digital economy.

The United States still leads the world in digital competitiveness and has abundant tech resources. If we’re capable of reaching the fastest wireless speeds in the world, we’re more than able to create the best technology education in the world. We can do that in a few ways.

First, the government can invest in our schools, funding computer science classes, robotics labs and new classroom technology nationwide. The administration is reportedly considering investing billions to create the infrastructure for a nationwide 5G network and “provide access to millions of Americans.” If we invested similar amounts in our schools, we could help our students take advantage of the upgraded grid.

Second, more states should require at least a basic level of computer science knowledge in public education. Virginia and Arkansas are among the states mandating computer science instruction; more states and cities should follow their lead. Digital thinking and computer skills are vital for success in many industries, from engineering to medicine, and no student should be deprived of the chance to learn such an important skill. Every state has a standard for reading literacy — we need standards for computer literacy as well.

Finally, corporations seeking skilled technology workers should partner with schools to help educate, train and apprentice students in vital digital skills. Some companies have already begun — Amazon last year launched its Future Engineers Program, promising $50 million for internships, scholarships and computer science classes for 1,000 schools. What if more companies did the same? America is home to some of the world’s largest tech companies; they could use their talent and resources to help school systems across the country bring their classrooms into the digital era.

While investing in 5G is a smart decision for our economy, investing in the nation’s students is an even smarter one. Ensuring that all students have an opportunity to learn computer science will help more students find profitable, fulfilling careers in the digital economy, and it will help our country continue to lead the world in tech. These are the students who will one day build our 6G and 7G networks. They deserve an early start.

Mashea Ashton is founder and CEO of Digital Pioneers Academy, a computer science middle school in Washington, D.C.

This article was published in partnership with The 74. Sign up for The 74’s newsletter here.

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