Is Silicon Valley Beginning to Invest in Disrupting Education?

My knowledgeable colleague Mike Smith once told me that Silicon Valley has some of the least connected schools in the nation. Since then, I've personally seen an utter lack of infrastructure in homes and schools that live side-by-side to some of the most sophisticated and tech-fluent corporations and startups -- preventing civic engagement and technological fluency among Silicon Valley's youth.

With his TechCrunch guest blog back in 2011, my friend Jon Bischke cultivated a heated discussion about this very topic, "The Growing Divide Between Silicon Valley and Unemployed America." He asked if this increase in tech knowledge and fluency variation leads to...

The creation of two almost completely distinct countries in America, one which continues to boom and create enormous wealth for those who reside in it and another for which long-term unemployment and underemployment and the corresponding frustration that accompanies those states becomes the norm?

Bischke asked his readers, "Can we be doing more about this? Should we even be doing anything about it?" and received 295 fascinating comments! Around the same time in 2011, Knight Foundation invited my team to do something about it by using our Globaloria as a change-vehicle. On July 23, 2011, Mike Cassidy, San Jose Mercury News Columnist, wrote about the Silicon Valley launch of Globaloria:

The hardest thing about imagining the future of public education is that the present is so terribly bleak. Budgets are being slashed, schools closed, teachers laid off. Comparisons of students around the world show that our students are falling behind. Employers, tech industry employers in particular, are squawking about how we simply are not preparing U.S. kids to be the workers they'll need [...] A few Silicon Valley schools are about to try a program that shows some promise in not only getting kids interested in learning (imagine), but also forcing them to exercise the kinds of skills they'll need if they ever hope to get a decent job in the 21st century [...] Globaloria in the valley will be supported by a three-year, $950,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which works to promote civic engagement. The plan is to build the program from one that serves 150 students in Silicon Valley at the start to an ongoing effort that reaches 5,000 students three years from now... The goal will require the Knight Foundation's money and more. And so, Idit Caperton is turning to Silicon Valley companies in hopes that they will see how a brilliant workforce works to their advantage.

Fast forward to August, 2013. In the past two years, through our work in San Jose schools, after school clubs and summer programs, we have witnessed the viability of this model, in which successful corporations help fund/spread the innovation of undersized solution-makers, for shrinking the digital divide.

Our partnership with Microsoft is one example. Allow me to admit: in the past, I've been somewhat wary of giant Microsoft. They have been a highly-profitable global brand for many years, I thought to myself, why would they be motivated to impact education in small local communities? This past year, and especially this past summer, this view is beginning to transform. As we completed our second year of Globaloria in Silicon Valley and kicked off our third, one of our most active partners has become Microsoft.

While skeptical of Microsoft's commitment at first (their small grant was made through the Silicon Valley Community Foundation), we discovered that even a small "David" like us, with limited resources, can build a strong and trusting partnership with a "Goliath" and scale to make a huge difference.

Over the past year of partnership, Microsoft did many things to show their commitment to erasing the digital divide in Silicon Valley: invited students to see STEM careers in action at their Mountain View, CA, campus; sent employees into Globaloria classrooms around San Jose to inspire youth; hosted a donation campaign to support Globaloria students; published a story about Globaloria to thousands of Microsoft employees; produced a video about the impact of Globaloria in Silicon Valley; and hosted the Globaloria Summer Academy to educators-in-training from California and Wyoming.

As a result, the partnership of giant Microsoft (and other tech corporations like it, e.g., Cisco, Adobe, Google) with our small team helped us grow 800 percent in two years to reach more communities -- launching with 182 San Jose students in 2011, we will be working with over 1500 youth to develop their computing literacies and global citizenship this coming year.

Microsoft contributes over $1 billion through Corporate Citizenship annually, and among Microsoft Silicon Valley employees, 84 percent participate in the annual giving campaign, illustrating the authentic commitment of Microsoft to impact the local communities within which its employees live and work.

"Empowering young people means providing access to technology and technology skills training, improving access to education and giving young people tools to support their learning," said Sid Espinosa, Director of Corporate Citizenship and Philanthropy at Microsoft Silicon Valley.

I am writing this blog today because investment from technology corporations in local education initiatives -- both programmatic and infrastructural -- can, in the long term, benefit everyone. We have seen how start-ups with groundbreaking ideas but limited revenues can scale and flourish with corporate dollars. And in an economy where there are two to three STEM jobs available for every STEM degree-holder graduating from U.S. colleges, it is that much more important for tech and bio-tech companies to invest in the local STEM pipeline. Moreover, it's also a human right, or at least human justice to not exist in a bubble and to participate actively within the community.

I confess my misjudgment about Microsoft, which apparently has been an active player in repairing the digital divide of San Jose / Silicon Valley, and I am using this blog to challenge the less-philanthropic companies of Corporate America to step up! Let's work together to bring entrepreneurial innovation to the communities that would most benefit from it, corporations with expansive reach and deep pockets may be the disruptive force education needs -- not only in Silicon Valley, but across the nation and the world.

Globaloria is the first and largest social learning network where students develop STEM and Computing knowledge, and global citizenship through game design and coding. Globaloria is used by educators nationwide to engage students in deep learning in both elective and core classes at public and charter schools, summer schools, and after-school programs. Invented by the World Wide Workshop in 2006, Globaloria has since impacted 8000 students and educators in eight states across the United States.

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