Incoming: What Students Want for a Good Technology Education

October 1, 2018
By Terry Halvorsen

One of the fundamental ingredients to a secure future is having a sustainable and engaged technology-savvy workforce. This means we must be preparing our youth for today’s and tomorrow’s technologies. We need to cultivate the next generation of technology innovators and masters.

While traveling this spring and summer, I met and spoke with many high school and college-age students. I heard quite a bit about their desire to better understand and be more involved in cybersecurity. Specifically, they asked about authentication solutions for mobile applications, better identity management, and how to protect and understand their data.

Furthermore, they expressed a need to increase their experience and participation in the technology workplace and improve technology preparation in schools. They were concerned that without more classroom instruction, and especially more real-world introduction to technology, they would not be prepared to help further innovation and solve tomorrow’s challenges.

I asked these students for their recommendations and opinions about how to increase their involvement in the workplace and what schools, parents and businesses could do to help them be better prepared. Their responses included mandating STEM programs in all middle and high schools; holding more school technology and demonstration events; increasing hands-on exposure to technology; participating in internships at technology companies; and encouraging more engagement from the technology industry in schools.

A group of students in a Cisco networking class said they were terrified by the requirements they were seeing online and wondered, How do I get relevant job experience while I’m a student? They were frustrated by structured class assignments where all they did was research jobs and then write about a job and the experience required. The trend they saw was “three to four years of prior experience,” but they weren’t learning how to get that experience.

This was very concerning to the students. These bright young minds in the middle of their studies were suddenly faced with the question of how to gain experience in the technology world when seemingly every position required previous experience. They were worried they would not have the opportunity to contribute to solving society’s challenging information technology problems.

Several students suggested pairing high school or college students with talented senior employees through internships. This would give the students a broader view or linkage between their studies and the real world and a deeper understanding of the technical work in a corporate environment.

Another option would be introducing or increasing Internet or cyber technology classes into the curriculum. Many U.S. and international schools have numerous classes focused on manufacturing, industrial jobs and business. Yet few schools have deep, tailored information technology programs that include much beyond typing a simple essay to build an understanding of computers, basic cybersecurity and where the world is going with technology.

This is a summary of statements from students in middle school through college: “Everything we do today at school, home and in life is related to computers and data collection. We need to expand the exposure of computer and cybersecurity classes beyond the basic one or two classes offered at most high schools.”

All the students said they believed that technology needed to be introduced at a much earlier point, and they argued that elementary school was the right time and that middle schools should have basic information technology and cyber labs. Another key observation from all the students—and the one that may be the most problematic—was that students didn’t use technology much in the classroom and that many teachers failed to recognize how technology should be changing teaching methods. A common remark was, “We don’t use the technology like our parents do at work. We aren’t using e-books, collaborating with technology, presenting information in the way business is.”

If we increase students’ knowledge of, and access to, technology and cybersecurity, then it could spark an interest at an early age, when learning basic job skills is critical. Students could be introduced to fields they might not have considered.

No one possesses a more limitless capacity for innovation and learning than our youths and young adults. We must foster and guide these young minds down a path that could bring about the next technological revolution.

We should allow them to work and drive the industry forward in their thoughts, making new leaders in limitless fields for years to come. These young men and women are quite literally our future. It is our responsibility as senior leaders to show them how to succeed.

As always, feedback is welcome at signalnews@afcea.org.

Terry Halvorsen, the chief information officer (CIO) and an executive vice president with Samsung Electronics, is the former U.S. Defense Department CIO. He also has served as the Department of the Navy CIO.

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