March 17, 2016

8 Steps to Engage Underrepresented Students in Computers


Let’s be honest. Hong Kong is a city with too many inequalities. Education is no exception to the rule. Computer Science education is even worse. We present 8 steps to engage underrepresented students in computers.

This situation can improve. It’s improving a bit. In 2010, 10 per cent of the 300,000 low-income households with school-age children were not wired up.
Today it’s 4 per cent*. Which means 12,000 low-income households. This figure should be at zero.

We are trying – in a modest approach – to do that. We want to enable underserved children in Hong Kong with access to computers.

It’s not enough though. The reality is this.

If you think giving access to computers will change everything, you’re wrong. It’s just one effort among many others to decrease the gaps.

And it’s not just giving access. It has to be more than that. It is enabling an access to a different educational approach, a computational one. The promotion of Computer science education to underserved communities can help them

One of the worst effect of coming from an underserved community is the lack of information. When you don’t know all the facts, how can you improve a given situation?

Some would argue that this is not the priority. We think they are wrong. The priority is in the Education. We are playing the long game here. Today’s children will go to University tomorrow and they need the tools to succeed. The social and financial environment they live in don’t help.

Many teachers and parents are aware of that, but it’s not enough. We believe some behaviours will encourage to close the gap.

This is for teachers. If you have any comments, or know any organisations in Hong Kong working on this topic, please let us know.

1. Select soft tools to ignite the spark

One big misconception is to believe that you need to computers to teach computer science. This is false. Of course at some point, students need to get their hands dirty with computers, but at first no. All you need is some papers, scissors and your creativity. We have thought of simple approaches that don’t need tons of materials. And our workshops start with this approach too.

2. Encourage all the students

Focus encouragement on student progress, persistence, and effort. Computer Science education is hard so be positive and insist on the grit. It’s a long game as we said. Underserved students are going through lots of efforts to raise their situation through Education. They need positive support!

3. Make it enjoyable

A couple of details can make the difference. Think about the environment you’re working in. Do you want your students to feel at ease and in the right mood to learn? Make it pleasant and inviting, so students want to come back.

4. Inclusive teaching style

It’s all about the interactions you are developing with the students and making sure all of them feel included in the work. The exchanges you are creating with them. Ask for feedback, involve them in the process rather than give a simple lecture. This way you are encouraging meaningful, relevant and accessible knowledge for all.

Remember Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote:

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

5. Collaborative learning in the class

Use pair learning, think of your class as a group of different teams working together. It creates a vibrant atmosphere and some competition. It’s easier to cultivate soft skills: empathy, team spirit and listening.

6. Meet students where they are

It means meeting them where they live and evolve in order to understand their background and ability to learn new concepts. It means as well to meet them at their actual level of knowledge. When you come from an underserved communities, there are some discrepancies difficult to cope.It’s key to adapt curricular programs to student’s existing knowledge and habits. Using a game-based learning approach can help. It reduces entry barriers and provide with an equal chance to succeed.

7. Provide role models

We all need role models. Someone to relate to when we are in trouble. This is the perfect example to give motivation and show that everyone can succeed. A role model already did it. You need to ask for goodwill and successful examples of former alumni.

8. Connect students to support networks</h2>

There are support networks that can help you do more. You are already trying to do a lot and you can’t change the world.

There are organisations in Hong Kong such as WebOrganic that are doing an amazing job. You must check them out.

We are helping schools and teachers bring computer science education to all. No matter where you come from. What we care about is that more children get to feel what it’s like to learn computer science principles. The sad thing is many catch up too late because they did not have the option. We want to give that option to every children of Hong Kong.

Please, let us know if you are a parent and want to give your children first chance at computer science. Tell us whether the school she or he goes into can provide with this access. And if not we can get in touch.

If you are a teacher and want to organise a workshop in your classroom, let us know. We are thrilled to help shape the future community of engineers, and even further, the future generation of Hong Kong citizens.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for caring.


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