Making Education Accessible Through Community
March 9, 2019
Reposted from a FreeCodeCamp article I authored.
Technological innovations, like those from Boston Dynamics, offer a glimpse of exciting growth and change in the near future! Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are growing in many ways. New technologies drive change in traditional industries, stimulate job growth, and revolutionize education. From advanced research to elementary-school classrooms, our world is changing as technology becomes more prevalent.
The Education Commission of the States (ECS) has reported that STEM related industries will experience 13% job growth from 2017 to 2027. Within that category, computer related industries will grow the most at 14%. In comparison, the average growth is expected to be 9%. Median hourly earnings are $38.85 for STEM-related careers, compared to the $19.30 average. That’s a difference of over \$40,000 in yearly income assuming a 40-hour work week. Unemployment is also half of the average (2.2% vs. 5.5%). This all seems great! Fantastic job growth, high pay, and low unemployment. One key challenge to rain on this STEM parade is that many of those jobs could go unfilled in the future. In manufacturing alone, 3.5 million jobs will be needed by 2025, with nearly 2 million going unfilled.
The most commonly cited cause for this disparity is that workers will not be qualified enough to fill those roles. This leads us to wonder, what can be done to prepare workers for those jobs? The demand for STEM education is understood by parents and students. 90% of students expect their future job will require some computer science knowledge. 85% of parents agree. Parents from low-income families (\$54,000 or less yearly income) are twice as likely to find computer science more important than required courses. Despite the demand from industry, students, and parents, 47% of principals reported their schools don’t offer coding courses. 53% don’t offer robotics. 44% of principals state a lack of teachers is why they don’t offer computer science. Of those principals, 40% state there is a teacher available in their schools who could teach computer science. Refer to the table below for other reasons Computer Science isn’t offered:
Traditional education has done many great things in preparing students for the future, but has struggled in many ways. Notably, an over-emphasis on testing is a barrier to coding and other STEM courses. We may have to look outside the classroom for a solution. Community-driven and open-source movements have revolutionized many industries. Being open-source means that the software, hardware, or whatever it might be is freely available and can be redistributed or modified. This allows information to be shared for the benefit of all. Many open-source projects are created as hundreds of individuals work together to create a useful tool. Wikipedia is an example common to most of us. Many companies drive astounding impact by contributing to open source. Below are a few companies (and some of their projects):
- Google (Android, TensorFlow, Chromium, Dart, Go)
- Microsoft (Visual Studio Code, .NET dev tools, TypeScript)
- Automattic — Creators of WordPress
Let’s analyze two organizations that are teaching STEM through community and open-source.
freeCodeCamp stands at the forefront of many organizations who teach coding. Founded in 2014 by Quincy Larson, freeCodeCamp has experienced outstanding growth. Highlighted below are a few key stats: 1 billion user minutes across all their platforms. That’s 2000 years! More visitors than CodeAcademy (which has a $47 million valuation) More visitors than Udacity (which has a $1 billion valuation) 54,500 Alumni with thousands now working in computer related industries Curriculum translated into Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish It’d be easy to assume freeCodeCamp had hundreds of employees and was heavily funded! Actually, it’s quite the opposite. As of December 2018, freeCodeCamp has 5 employees and an operating budget of \$200,000. It is a 501(c)(3) non-profit. For more info on freeCodeCamp, check out this medium post. How can 5 people do all that? Well, to put it simply, they don’t. At least not alone. Over 650 volunteers contribute to all that growth! Many graduates (and current students) use their newly acquired knowledge to give back. Through Open Source for Good, freeCodeCamp also helps their students contribute to other open source or non profit organizations. Although most users are adults, an increasing number of educators are using it. freeCodeCamp is adding a classroom mode and tools for study groups as donations and volunteering increases! freeCodeCamp is educating thousands at home or in the classroom. People are learning then giving back, driving viral growth for this amazing organization. Following this model, we’re going to look at Khan Academy!
Another fantastic example of community-driven change is more widely known: Khan Academy. To briefly sum up their story, Sal Khan started tutoring family members who were struggling with science and math. As more family asked for his help, he posted videos on YouTube. He also created a website where they could do practice problems. More and more people found his resources. He was soon noticed by Bill Gates and Google. Backed by a passionate community, Khan Academy began to reach more and more people. Through volunteer content creators and translators, they now reach hundreds of thousands of students in over 100 countries. According to Sal Khan, Khan Academy was never designed to replace traditional classroom education. It is meant to supplement it by providing tools for teachers and students. Machine learning can create individualized and effective learning plans by analyzing data from students quizzes and Khan Academy practice. Teachers, now equipped with these plans, can better concentrate their efforts on each student! A few stats about Khan Academy from their website: Students who complete 60% of their grade-level math on Khan Academy experience 1.8 times the expected growth on the NWEA MAP Test, a popular assessment test 64% of first-generation college students reported Khan Academy was meaningful to their education (164 surveyed) Check out this Google Talk to learn more about this wonderful organization!
By empowering individuals through accessible resources, real change can be achieved. As communities develop around similar beliefs and goals, thousands are taught and are then able to teach. This process of learning and giving back is key to educating future generations. Everyone, everywhere has the potential to learn difficult concepts, given the right community and resources. We can help make those resources globally accessible by donating to these communities. Donations don’t have to be financial. By giving our time, talent, and energy, we can support open-source and community-driven organizations that are causing real global change. I have been personally impacted by both of these organizations. I learned to code primarily through freeCodeCamp. I now enjoy a fulfilling job doing web development. I give back by translating resources in Spanish. We all have unique and valuable skills we can use to contribute! Thanks for reading! In my spare time I write about education and cool technology. I also develop educational resources for robotics.