(TNS) A $300-million commitment from the private sector will help boost computer science education programs across the nation, including classes for more than 15,000 Detroit students.
General Motors and Quicken Loans are among the companies committing big bucks to the initiative.
News of the investment came today during an event in downtown Detroit that featured Ivanka Trump, Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert and other advocates for computer science education and coding.
And it came a day after President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum directing the US Department of Education to steer at least $200 million annually toward STEM and computer science education in US schools.
The goal: to ensure that schools across the nation are providing students with computer science education. A particular focus — during discussions today and in the president's memo — is on increasing diversity in computer science.
"Less than half of American schools have even a single computer science course," Ivanka Trump said during a panel discussion. "We have to do better. We’re going to do better."
She said computer science and coding "are a priority for the administration as we think about pathways to jobs."
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Marillyn Hewson, chairwoman, president and CEO of Lockheed Martin, talked about how key computer science is to space exploration, specifically mentioning the Orion spacecraft NASA is building that is intended to take humans where they've never been before, including Mars.
"There's a million lines of code that has to be built for that spacecraft," Hewson said. "And it takes computer scientists to do it. When the first American steps on the red dust of Mars, it's going to be because of computer scientists."
Officials from the Internet Association said the $300-million investment from the private sector, spread over five years, is meant to complement Trump's directive. It is being funded by members of the association, other businesses and individuals. The association is a trade group for some of the biggest Internet companies.
A breakdown of some of the commitments:
• Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Salesforce are each committing $50 million
• Lockheed Martin: $25 million
• Accenture: $10 million
• General Motors: $10 million
• Pluralsight: $10 million
• Quicken Loans: Is committing the financial resources required to ensure more than 15,000 children in the Detroit Public Schools Community District will receive computer science training.
Intuit and the Internet Association are also pledging a contribution, though the amount wasn't noted in a news release issued this morning.
Gilbert, whose companies already work in some ways with Detroit schools, including a one-on-one tutoring program, said of the district:
"The public schools of Detroit have just undergone a leadership change that is very, very positive."
And he sounded optimistic about the potential impact of the investment in computer science education, predicting that if DPSCD officials made a comprehensive effort to adopt computer science education across the district, it would pay off in students being prepared for high-paying jobs.
"You’ve got to give hope back to these kids," Gilbert said.
The news of Quicken's investment in DPSCD was a pleasant surprise to the district.
“We were unaware of the donation but are always appreciative of the opportunity to use outside resources to equip our students with the skills and opportunities to be more competitive in a global market focused on technology," said Chrystal Wilson, spokeswoman for the district.
Gilbert noted during the event that he knows of two to three people working in his companies who were dropouts from the Detroit district and taught themselves computer education. They're now in jobs earning $70,000 to $80,000.
Today's event featured two panel discussions — both emphasizing the need to provide opportunities for students to learn computer science. They said it's important, no matter what career students pursue.
Diversity, and the need to attract women and minorities to computer science fields, was a common theme in the discussion.
"We do have a major diversity problem in the technology industry," Trump said. "Collectively, we need to come together and find a way to solve that."
She reiterated statistics she highlighted Monday during a media call: That the percent of women in the computer science workforce declined from 35.3% in 1990 to 22.2% in 2016, "even though women represent 47% of the overall US labor force."
Hadi Partovi, CEO of Code.org, said his family came to the U.S. as immigrants, fleeing Iran "during a time of war." He said he was able to achieve the American dream because he learned coding and computer science.
Today, he said, people don't feel like the American dream exists, in part because "our schools aren't equal."
"It shouldn't be that a student's chance to study is dependent on the neighborhood they grew up in or the color of their skin."
Meanwhile, the plan was praised today by the advocacy group Computer Science Education Coalition. The group said it had been working with Congress and the Trump administration to make such funding a priority.
"By redirecting existing federal funding to these vital areas via a competitive process, teachers will be given an important tool to educate our children in the key fields that help defend the United States and support the jobs of the future," the group said in a statement.©2017 the Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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