EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Microsoft is expanding its computer science education program, Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS), to include Ciudad Juarez in an effort to improve access and equity for high school students.
TEALS is a Microsoft Philanthropies program that helps high schools develop inclusive and robust computer science programs that are sustainable for the schools.
KTSM 9 News spoke with former TEALS alums-turned-volunteers and Microsoft staff in Juarez on what the program expansion means for the Borderland community and economy.
Ricky Lozano, who participated in the program through Clint ISD and says the TEALS program changed his life by giving him the tools he needed to work in the tech field
Lozano now works in computer programming while also volunteering with TEALS. He says the enthusiasm of his TEALS instructors lit a flame in him.
“I saw the passion that the individuals teaching had for the subject and I suppose it was contagious in a way. And I kind of got that energy of wanting to pursue something in the computer science field,” he says.
The expansion was announced on Monday and will reach 18 cities across the U.S., as well as Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. This is the first time the program’s current English language curriculum will be translated into Spanish.
The translation services are conducted through partnerships with curriculum providers that include Carnegie Mellon University.
The TEALS expansion to Mexico will be housed at four high schools in Ciudad Juarez and reach approximately 160 students.
The program is set to expand to 12 more high schools, with 480 students, 12 teachers, and 24 volunteers over the next five years.
“The TEALS expansion to Mexico marks an important step in our efforts to make computer science education accessible to high school students in the region, increasing the likelihood that they’ll continue to study technology and land meaningful, in-demand jobs that offer higher pay and career longevity,” said Omar Saucedo, Microsoft TechSpark regional manager based in Ciudad Juarez. “In collaboration with our partners across the border, we will help students, teachers, volunteers and communities play an important role in and benefit from our growing digital economy.”
Microsoft is partnering with FECHAC, a citizens’ initiative in Chihuahua that promotes education, health, and social capital development programs through civil organizations, and Fundacion AXCEL A.C. (FUNAX), a program that works with the business community to innovate, promote social development, and improve opportunities and quality of life for residents in the region.
“It is key that our youth have training opportunities like TEALS to secure better future job opportunities,” said Gil Cueva, FECHAC Juarez president.
There are currently 400,000 open jobs in computing within the U.S., while Juarez has a robust manufacturing industry that is quickly adopting increasingly digital technologies.
“These companies, most of them are moving to advanced manufacturing, more technological processes, and these companies require a new type of skill from our population.”
Saucedo says that TEALS students in Juarez are already responding positively to the programming and eager to share their recently acquired erudition with their peers.
“We already had a case of one student who said, ‘you know what? What I’m starting to learn, I want to take to the place where I live, and I want to teach it to my friends that don’t have the possibility to be here’,” he says.
Minority learners that include Latino, Hispanic, Black, and female students are at a disproportionate risk of falling behind on learning opportunities and career pathways in the computer science field.
Structural and social barriers related to access and exposure to computer science creates learning disparities in already struggling communities.
A study by Google examined diversity gaps in computer science and reports that Hispanic students are 50 percent less likely than white students to use a computer at home most days of the week.
Researchers report that lack of access to computer technology can influence students’ confidence in learning computer science.
“These complex and interrelated structural and social barriers have far-reaching implications for underrepresented groups in computer science. Not only do females, Blacks and Hispanics lack some of the access and exposure to computer science that their counterparts have, but the persistence of long-standing social barriers that foster narrow views of who does computer science can also halt interest and advancement,” writes Valerie Taylor, Regents Professor at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University.”
Diversity gaps in computer science education could potentially limit the generation of technological innovations that align with the needs of a community’s demographics.
“The parents know that by having the TEALS program in Juarez, their children are going to have many opportunities in the future,” says Saucedo. “Entire families are being benefited by the program itself,” he adds.