November 1, 2013

Leveling the Tech Playing Field in the Bronx, Part 1

One of the issues that many don't see dominate the headlines in the Bronx is the need to create a local, tech-savvy workforce to compete in new jobs being created in the technology fields. All too often, we spend enormous amounts of resources just trying to get people employed so that we can reduce the double digit unemployment that has existed in parts of the borough for over forty years. Yes, I said it, for the better part of forty years, too many have been unemployed or underemployed, perpetuating a vicious cycle of poverty in the Bronx. So how do we change it?

Throughout New York State, school districts and communities are tripping over each other trying to bring STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) centers and programs into their areas to prepare their children for the demands of a modern workforce. Where is that discussion in the Bronx? With the exception of some very close-knit circles, that discussion is non-existent or even an option for most Bronx students. The NYC Department of Education (DOE) can barely prepare Bronx middle-school children to take the specialized high school exam, let alone prepare them to compete in a 21st century workforce. Before I sound as if I am coming off too negative, let me point out that the Bronx has some extremely bright students and individuals, some that have excelled in robotics, technology, and other sciences. And as great and important these shining stars are, we as a county are woefully unprepared in training a technology-based workforce for the city. Because of the lack of direction, those future jobs will go to other places in and outside of the city, leaving Bronxites further behind their counterparts in the region.

We need to think-outside-the-educational box and help identify whatever resources are available to those who are willing to lift themselves up and cross the digital divide. There are a few people here in the Bronx who are starting to build that bridge for others, and I hope to bring you more about them soon enough. Right now, I want to talk about an organization in NYC that I came across on a news show recently (yes, I consider the 'Colbert Report' a news source, leave me alone) called the Codecademy, an organization that teaches individuals young and old alike how to write web-based programs for free. Yes, that is the business model right now, teaching people the basics of several program languages used for writing code on the internet at no cost other than that for computer access, which one can get also for free at any of our public libraries (while we still have those for free).

According to Codecademy's mission statement, "We are rethinking education from the bottom up. The web has rethought nearly everything - commerce, social networking, healthcare, and more. We are building the education the world needs - the first truly net native education. We take more cues from Facebook and Zynga in creating an engaging educational experience than we do from the classroom." That's a bold statement, is it one that we can get Bronxites motivated around, whether its this company or others like it? What will it take to show young Bronxites that they too can be a part of a modern day tech workforce, and not stay stuck on the lower rungs of the economic ladder? If the traditional education system is not working for so many, those in academic and political leadership need to step up harder and faster than before, or we risk losing future generations of Bronxites to cyclical poverty. While we're at it, let's make sure that whoever is the next mayor is also listening and working on a plan now, and not wait until they take their first step into Gracie Mansion to ponder a plan for the Bronx.

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