When President Barack Obama unveiled the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, he issued a challenge to communities across the United States. If education really is the silver bullet to undermining poverty and crime, then the country needs to develop nationwide cradle-to-career strategies for this generation and all generations to follow. More than any other time in history, technology is poised to play a vital role in the developmental education of our youth, shaping the economic landscape for decades to come, and will be a cornerstone for My Brother’s Keeper.
Establishing a firm foundation on which an education can be built is paramount. The Obama administration notes that finding modern ways to increase the cognitive, physical, social and emotional development of children before they enter their first classroom is the primary benchmark in My Brother’s Keeper. “There are numerous [tablet] apps that offer many ways to teach children,” says Meagan Lovelace, a Resource Room Instructor at Walton Central School in upstate New York. “Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices, such as BoardMaker software...and ProLoQuo2go apps...are just some of the many adaptive and instructional technologies used to reach out to students during their younger years.”
The classroom itself has also become a showcase of new technologies. SmartBoards, which have become mainstays in schools across the country, offer an enhanced version of the antiquated chalkboard. Educational websites like SumDog.com, which has instructional math gaming for grades K-8, not only provide an entertaining way to learn, but also give access to educational materials outside of the classroom. “My current district uses [smart] TVs to help project lessons off a teacher's [tablet],” said Lovelace, adding that, “students can follow along on the 30-40 [tablets] our Middle and High Schools have.”
E-reader and tablet interfaces have actually become commonplace in everyday life. My Brother’s Keeper has a goal of full literacy by the third grade, so use of such recognizable technology should only continue to help children learn to read.
Arguably the most exciting technological development in education is Edmodo. “Edmodo is essentially the Facebook of the classroom,” explained Lovelace, with the teacher serving as site moderator. The software enables the sharing of Internet content, online assignment submissions, discussion forums and generally allows students to have more information readily available in a format that is modern, accessible and familiar. Lovelace suggests that Edmodo can also encourage social development as students interact outside of the classroom.
Higher Education Innovations
Further, high school students have a wide array of tech-focused classes, vocational programs and new college curriculums to help them matriculate into a 21st century job market. Secondary education has seen a surge in computer-based learning, with classes in programming and typing being adopted nationwide.
My Brother’s Keeper will benefit from trade and professional programs like BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services) and New Visions which “often give on-the-job visit experience and really start to dive into what the job field may look like,” Lovelace said. “Those classes will definitely help a job resume or college application.” President Obama himself noted the importance of community colleges in shaping this century’s workforce during a 2009 visit to Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, NY. The SUNY junior college has made great strides in developing training programs for green technology fields.
With additional training and the renewed emphasis on developmental education, the My Brother’s Keeper initiative will help create a workforce that is technology literate. Unlike the Baby Boomers, who had to adapt to an emerging computer-age workplace, younger generations have access to modern technologies from birth. Potential employers want to see candidates with skilled tech knowledge, especially as industries advance in telecommunications, computer science and green energy.
Presenting a proven track record of successful projects, both at the scholastic and professional level, an ability to use and troubleshoot different technologies and a demonstration of problem solving skills are virtual requirements for many applicants. Those in the industry are helping their own cause by furthering student development and keeping young minds interested in tech. For example, Kalimah Priforce, co-founder of Qeyno Labs and a White House Champion of Change, recently organized a hackathon in Philadelphia, encouraging the continued development of youth tech skills.
Looking Beyond School
While My Brother’s Keeper is targeted toward advancing students from the classroom to graduation and eventually gainful employment, the byproduct of the continued growth of educational standards is a big one: a reduction in crime. Studies have shown a correlation between high school graduation rates and crime rates.
The National Center for Education Statistics published a report that showed the dropout rate in the United States holds steadily around 3.3 percent of high school students. Those percentages are disproportionately higher in places like Louisiana, the Southwest and Washington D.C., where there are dense Latino and African American populations. States with lower rates of high school graduation also have much higher per-capita crime rates, a reality born out of a lack of earning power, according to a report from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.
Ultimately, the success of My Brother’s Keeper will be how communities decide to utilize the technologies at their disposal. With the developments made in the classroom, the proactive approach of the tech industry and the government encouraging individuals to get involved as mentors, the dawn of a new age could be just over the horizon.