Preparing Newark’s Kids for the Digital Future
Vivian Cox Frasier
President & CEO, Urban League of Essex County
Quantum leaps in technology are creating a world even the most talented science fiction writers could not have envisioned. Driverless cars that can be summoned by smartphones more powerful than the old IBM mainframe computers and digital personal assistants like Siri and Alexa that respond to your every command are no longer figments of the imagination. These modern wonders are the result of the application of human intellectual capital.
The democratization of information and aggregation of resources accessible through the internet has created a more level playing field for poor urban communities once separated by an "equipment-based" digital divide. The challenge urban cities like Newark, East Saint Louis, and East Palo Alto face today is a digital “use” divide.
In 2016, the United States Office of Educational Technology released the National Education Technology Plan, which established a national vision for learning enabled by technology. It built on the work of leading education researchers, district, school, and higher education leaders; classroom teachers, entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations. However, the challenge facing many initiatives that emanate at the federal level is effective implementation at the local level.
Understanding the need for our nation to build a competitive 21st century workforce capable of performing complex "knowledge work," the Urban League of Essex County established Newark Kids Code. The computer coding program trains the next generation of software engineers and technology specialists. It uses coding as a tool to teach our children to be problem solvers and critical thinkers. Coding is the new literacy of the 21st century, and by the year 2050, most of our children will be required to know how to code. Achieving this goal will be a significant challenge because at least 70% of public school teachers nationwide do not know how to code.
The Urban League of Essex County has also entered into a strategic partnership with the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). In collaboration with NJIT's departments of Informatics, Computing Sciences, and Honors College, we developed a research-based coding curriculum administered to middle school students by NJIT's top computer science students. The program currently operates at a neighborhood school. The goal is to expand this program throughout the city in partnership with Newark Public Schools.
The jobs of today face almost certain extinction; therefore, access to employment opportunities in the tech sector is the civil rights and economic justice issue of our time. Guided by the sage words of former National Urban League President Whitney M. Young, Jr., we believe "it is better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared." The program initiatives of the Urban League of Essex County create meaningful paths to prepare our community for the opportunities of today—and tomorrow.