By Scott Campbell
Digital fluency is so entwined in our everyday lives that, frankly, it’s even hard to imagine doing anything or going anywhere without the assistance of technology. And the more familiar and comfortable we are using tech, the more opportunities we will have. It’s also increasingly important to start exposing students to tech’s possibilities and pathways at an early age. By the time kids reach middle school, they’re already starting to contemplate and make important decisions about their future.
Getting middle-school students excited about and engaged with using technology can help them envision pathways to possible tech careers and get an understanding of how to use tech as a tool to be successful in any career. To get there, it’s important to teach students how technology can be used in real-life situations and not in a textbook, according to Henry Mann, senior director of product development at CompTIA Spark.
Providing the knowledge and skills to successfully use tech is a primary mission for CompTIA Spark’s curriculum for middle school students. To further explain, we asked Mann why tech education is important and how it can be successfully implemented in schools. Here’s what he had to say:
Why Is Tech Education in Middle Schools So Important?
Middle school is a critical time for students because they’re starting to identify what choices they want to make and what they want to do in high school: what high schools to apply to, what programs to pursue, etc. This makes it a critical time to provide tech education. We believe that tech as a career can be a very rewarding path—very well paid and many jobs only require certifications (not degrees)—but currently, that path is only being chosen by a small percentage of students. That’s why it’s critical that we reach students, especially diverse students, during the time they are starting to make decisions about their future.
We also believe that tech is not just about a certain set of careers, but about all careers. Tech is part of every job, everything from agriculture and mechanics to more traditional jobs like medical or engineering. It’s quite pervasive. So, whether a student sees a future for themselves in the tech industry or not, it’s important that we start to expose them to technology as early as possible.
Are All Tech Education Programs Created the Same?
I’m not here to judge all tech-ed programs, but I believe our perspective and knowledge of both the tech industry and the workforce can provide unique insights. We see middle-school tech education not as a silo but as a pathway. The goal of tech education at this level should be to inspire a desire to follow that path—not to impart information or memorize content. It’s about getting students to want to learn more about tech as they leave middle school. Unfortunately, in my experience, many tech education programs don’t think that way.
As the global trade association for the tech industry, we are also in a unique position to understand what skills the tech industry will need in the future. This perspective and industry relationship allows us to bring those insights to the middle school level through the programs we create.
Do Students Have To Be ‘Techies’ To Study Tech Education?
I can’t answer this question with a more emphatic NO! There continues to be a shortage of diverse representation in the tech industry, and we believe this problem starts in middle school. Many girls and minority students continue to be turned off by technology education, likely due to this exact idea that you have be a “techie” to be on a tech pathway. We designed our program to be engaging and relevant to all students regardless of their gender, race, zip code, ability and prior tech interest. This approach is fundamental to closing the confidence and skills gap that plagues the tech industry.
What Types of Skills Are Important for a Tech Career?
There are tech careers, but we believe that every career is actually a tech career. Certainly, there are traditional tech skills that are needed to pursue a traditional IT career pathway, but there are also technology skills that everyone—regardless of what career they end up with—will need in order to be successful. What’s true in both cases is that we don’t actually know what technology today’s sixth graders will be using once they get into the workforce. Just look at artificial intelligence innovations in the last couple of months, and then imagine what it will be like in 10 years. So today, it’s about learning how to learn and be flexible in using technology. We call these “durable” and “21st century” skills.
What’s the Best Way To Keep Students Interested in Technology?
At the middle-school level, the first thing to keep in mind is that you need to show students how tech can be used in interesting ways. It’s not just, “read this article to learn about tech.” You have to give students access to tech and give them the space to actually use the tech for real-world applications. We build our curriculum to use common creativity and productivity applications to create projects that are relevant, engaging and give learners the ability to unlock their potential.
Discover opportunities to use our free tech education curriculum in your classroom.