Tech education gets techier in New York public schools

New York's Department of Education has launched several technology schools to help students gain tech skills.

New York’s Department of Education has launched several technology schools to help students gain tech skills.

We’ve talked before about the “skills gap” – the lack of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics professionals and the growing need for those skills in the workforce.

A technical education used to mean that a high school student was going to a vocational school to become an automotive professional, cosmetologist or get trained for a blue-collar job. Now, it’s something else entirely, like computer programming, engineering, robotics or laboratory science. Today’s technical programs help kids get into good colleges and land great, high-paying jobs.

How are schools dealing with this change? While some are beefing up their tech programs by offering computer programming classes, others are taking a different approach.

Training tomorrow’s software engineers

New York’s Department of Education has funded New York City public schools (with an eye-popping billion dollars) to develop and enhance technical programs, schools and skills.

In Manhattan, it opened the Academy for Software Engineering last September with 129 freshmen. The school has an unscreened admissions process and aims to help students planning to take the AP computer science exam, who want to become comp sci majors in college or who plan to look for tech jobs when they graduate from high school.

“We’re interested in giving students marketable skills so that when they’re done, they can take industry certifications and get jobs,” said Josh Thomases, the deputy chief academic officer for instruction in the city’s Department of Education.

When I was in high school, I learned how to create a PowerPoint presentation in a clunky, outdated computer lab. These kids are learning things like how to create a web page from scratch and how to design a mobile application on new, high-tech classroom computers. All of these abilities are in high demand on the job market.

Students also have the opportunity to visit technology companies, startups and meet working tech professionals. On recent field trips, students got to visit the Facebook, Google and Twitter offices and hear from employees about their experiences.

This coming September, the city is opening its second Academy for Software Engineering in the Bronx. It’s also going to add a software-engineering elective to 20 additional schools so more kids can learn these important skills.

“Understanding software is probably a required life skill for the 21st century,” said Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist who sits on the Academy’s board. “Everybody should be exposed to this kind of an education — not just in New York, but everywhere in the world.”

Do you think this is the right approach to take in tech education? Please share your thoughts below or send us a note on Facebook!

Scott Cornell

When he’s not knee deep in blogging and all things tech, Scott spends his free time playing ultimate Frisbee and watching foreign films. An expert in emerging tech trends, Scott always has his ear to ground for breaking news related to IT security.