Exposing Students to Coding

with Jose Antonio Tijerino of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation

Coding is the language of the future, but for students in low-income areas, there can be limited access to a full range of STEM courses.

Jose Antonio Tijerino, President and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss efforts to expose more students to computer science and coding.

Posted on:

Aug 31, 2021

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: Computer science is the language of the 21st century. So much in our daily lives is reliant on technology. Because of that, employment in computer and information technology is projected to grow at a much faster rate than average for all occupations. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Coding is the language of the future, but for students in low-income areas, there can be limited access to the full range of STEM courses. That's science, technology, engineering, and math. Jose Antonio Tijerino is president and C.E.O. of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation. He joins me to discuss efforts to expose more students to computer science and coding. Antonio, thanks for being here.

Tijerino: Thank you for having me.

Anderson: So, Antonio, I know that you have written about this idea about there being a gap between technology, education, equity, and it's hitting the Hispanic community. What do you mean by that? And what are you seeing that shows you this is a real issue?

Tijerino: So the tech equity gap -- Others call it the homework gap. Others call it the digital divide -- has been an issue for many years in the Latino community, in rural areas, and among other minorities. It just got worse over 2020, when we were dependent on access to technology in order to learn. And now as we bounce back, I wrote an article that said that there's no vaccine for the educational crisis of 2020. We're actually gonna bounce back faster in the economic issues and the health issues than we will from the educational issues that have taken a turn for the worse. And in order to do that, we have to be connected. My friend Jessica Rosenworcel from the FCC said that the future belongs to those that are connected. Now, the problem is that Latinos are most likely to say that their homework wasn't completed because of lack of access to technology, most likely to say that their grades suffered, most likely to say that they were doing their homework on a cellphone and most likely to say that they had to sit against the McDonald's and access the Internet that way instead of from the comforts of their home, where learning is more optional -- more efficient. As well as the parents. We had a survey that found that teachers said the most difficult to communicate with were the Latino parents. And it wasn't because of a language issue. It was because of the technology gap and not being able to communicate. So this is something that we have to really look at. And some of our programs that we're running are completely dependent on access technology, especially as we pivoted to a digital format through our program like Code as a Second Language that we're trying to fill in those gaps from not being able to be in the classrooms. How are we able to do that, especially over the summer, when we're trying to now kind of make up for lost time of that lost year of 2020?

Anderson: So I wanted to ask you about that, because it is so important that we can close these gaps by providing access. We can close them by providing hardware. But there are longer term solutions like training and education. And I know that your foundation is focused on using Coding as a Second Language to close that gap. And I'm wondering how exactly are you working to do that? What's the program about?

Tijerino: So Code as a Second Language was started specifically to address the issue of access to jobs in the tech space, career paths, as well as computational thinking, problem solving, taking chances, creativity, and you need technology to be able to do all of those things. And it gives you a better footing as you go forward, not just in education, but in your potential careers and even just being in the community. Everyone needs to be able to access digital skills in order to be more productive in any aspect. That program is now heading towards 100,000 kids that we have introduced to or taught how to code. And then also building communities where we're building social capital between these students by connecting them. So as they go forward in these career paths, that they're gonna be able to have a support system and others that are going through the same paths. This is an essential program because 7 out of 10 new jobs will be taken by Latinos going forward. We want to make sure those jobs are in the space that Comcast and other members of corporate America, as well as America's workforce and government agencies, are able to fill those needs that they have, those gaps that they have in the workforce going forward. And this is also an opportunity to deal with generational poverty. If you're able to learn how to code, it gives you an opportunity to make a better wage, to have greater options. And we just want to make sure that we're democratizing that opportunity, and I want to say that we also have the program in Spanish because we want to make sure that we're able to reach the English learners as well in coding. And I just have to share one of the surveys that we had when we worked with a group of young people that were migrant kids that had just gotten here and they didn't speak a word of English. They actually said it was easier to learn to code than it was to learn English. And so we want to be able to take advantage of the fact that coding seems to be the universal second language.

Anderson: That is incredible. And technology and coding are our pathways to the future, as you talked about. And I'm wondering about your thoughts on how important technology is when it comes to providing platforms for something like creativity.

Tijerino: I think it's critical that you have a background in technology in order to be more creative or be more expressive. I'll give you an example. We actually work with the KID Museum and I'm on their board, and it's a maker space. A lot of the making is being done through digital platforms, through technology, especially when they had to pivot to digital platforms. And now even at the camps, we want to make sure that that content is captured and we're encouraging them to be more creative. But it's done through technology. I always like to say a 15-year-old kid that's connected to Wi-Fi and is connected to a device can reach more people than Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Cesar Chavez in their lifetimes combined. But they have to be able to have those tools. And those tools are an Internet connection and an access to a device.

Anderson: So true. And Antonio, I want to know if viewers want to know more about what the foundation does, what's your website? Where can they go?

Tijerino: Hispanicheritage.org. And we have various others that are specific to the coding programs and some of the other innovation programs that we have. But ultimately you can go to hispanicheritage.org. And I want to thank Comcast for giving us this platform to be able to talk about the work that we do and how we're supporting our communities.

Anderson: And I also want to thank you for being here. Jose Antonio Tijerino of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation. And thanks to our viewers for joining us as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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