Metro Nashville announced last June that it intends to quickly purchase 90,000 netbooks for Nashville public school students. This was an emergency use of about $ 24 million of federal funds from the CARES Act to enable students to switch to online distance learning as the pandemic raged.
The rollout took a long time, but the laptops – along with a separate purchase for 17,000 mobile hotspots – are now in the hands of students, including the 31% of Metro students who previously didn’t. home computer.
“This will allow our educators to help bridge the digital divide that most often plagues MNPS students in historically underserved neighborhoods of Nashville,” said Mayor John Cooper at the time.
Metro Nashville’s public school system remains in the grip of the pandemic, now balancing face-to-face teaching with new controversy over the mask’s mandate and more outbreaks, absences and quarantines spurred by the rise in HIV infections. delta variant among the unvaccinated.
Mayor of Nashville: Governor Lee’s order to remove masks will cause more outbreaks, fewer schools
“Parents know better”: Governor Bill Lee responds to Biden letter on school mask decree
In an interview with The Tennessean on Wednesday, Cooper discussed his new plans, dubbed a digital future, to prepare students for opportunities in Nashville’s booming tech sector and the role of technology in Nashville’s education system amid of a new wave of coronavirus.
“It’s not just about getting content to kids, but how is the laptop itself a learning platform for the digital future? Cooper said.
The job has changed, he said, from administrative roles to an economy increasingly based on concerts and freelancers where tech skills are essential. Education must change to follow.
What if college kids had a basic understanding of 3D printing? What if high school students in Nashville learned how to create an app before graduation?
“It’s outside the traditional ‘three R’s’ (reading, writing, and arithmetic), but it’s not fundamentally different from what Western schools did in the 1920s and 1930s to prepare their children for a learning environment. car manufacturing – metal shop, ”Cooper said.
As mayor of Nashville, Cooper has no direct control over the management of the city’s public schools. But thanks to annual budget proposals and office influence, mayors usually wield considerable influence.
This year, for example, Cooper included $ 50 million in its budget for Metro Schools to increase teacher pay.
As the pandemic left schools in limbo, Nashville continued to grow, attracting investment from Oracle and other tech companies promising to create thousands of jobs over the next decade. Cooper said he wanted Nashville students to be ready to transition to a more individual and entrepreneurial digital economy.
The push to include computer skills in primary and secondary education comes as educators and officials strive to tackle the learning loss associated with the pandemic.
Metro schools have seen declining student scores this year, mirroring those seen statewide, especially among economically disadvantaged students and some students of color.
“It’s not done to overload the teachers or add more to them,” Cooper said. “It has to be additive, but why would Nashville go through growth and attract all of these digital jobs if our kids weren’t on the front lines for these jobs?”
Improving access to technology and incorporating technological skills into learning “will enable personalization and support our efforts to accelerate learning for our students,” MNPS Director Adrienne Battle said in a statement to Tennessean.
“Initiatives such as Digital Future help support rich learning environments where learning is connected to the real world,” Battle wrote. “An inspired and engaged student is more likely to succeed through several measures of success and achievement. “
Tools for a future in a digital economy
Cooper said the Digital Future initiative is in part informed by conversations with Oracle executives, who have emphasized to him the value of students interested in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math.
Industry needs, computer languages and skills are constantly changing, placing more value on fundamental technological skills and adaptability. The goal: to provide more access and opportunities for Nashville students to learn more about technology and generate interest and enthusiasm for STEM skills.
The task of creating and implementing the initiative rests with Robert Fisher, Cooper’s senior advisor on education, and Keri Randolph, general manager of federal, state and philanthropic strategic investments at MNPS, with input from Battle and the support from Cooper.
“Digital Future is more than a curriculum,” said Battle. “It cuts across several pillars that include academic experiences for students, digital equity and access for students and families, and cultivating the talent we need both for our schools and in the tech sector. in Nashville. “
While its final form is still taking shape, the initiative will likely include on-the-job learning opportunities in the tech industry and hands-on experience, with additional guidance from local professional industry partners.
Such a program already exists to some extent at the Academy of Information Technology at John Overton High School, Cooper and Fisher said. Their goal is to “supercharge” this curriculum and scale it to all MNPS schools, so that every student has skills for the digital economy upon graduation, Randolph said.
Cooper said he hopes to make a more concrete announcement detailing the program this fall. The rollout will begin this year and will continue to work in partnership with the Cooper office, Battle said.
Meghan Mangrum and Brett Kelman contributed reporting.
Contact reporter Cassandra Stephenson at [email protected] or (731) 694-7261. Follow Cassandra on Twitter at @ CStephenson731.