A Pro Bono Model for Advancing Stem Education in Underserved Communities
In the township of Kayamandi, outside of Stellenbosch, South Africa, students at Makupula High School face an array of challenges. With few resources at home or school, they struggle to learn science and math, let alone see the relevance to their circumstances. Students like Likhonda, an 11th grader whom we met in 2015, are typically demotivated and discouraged about math. And it shows. The results contained in the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) show South African students to be among the lowest performers in math and science.
Despite efforts from the international community, including the Millennium Development Goals and Education for All (EFA) goals at the turn of the century followed by the more recent World Education Forum 2015 Framework and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), children are still not able to access ‘inclusive and equitable quality education.’ As many as 250 million children cannot read or write a coherent sentence, even though 130 million of them are in school. Emphasis on rote-learning practices in low-income countries do not help students meet the growing demand for technical competence in the next generation workforce. Inquiry-based learning, a demonstrable teaching method for building such competency, is not widely integrated, nor are teachers widely trained or supported in this approach.
Naturally inquisitive children can lose interest in STEM classes, and gender stereotypes often leave girls behind (globally, women in higher education make up only 35 percent of enrolled students in STEM-related fields). But technology, combined with effective teacher training, can be a powerful tool for changing that. In systematic reviews of education interventions, technology-assisted learning together with teacher training programs have among the largest positive effects on learning outcomes.
Team4Tech, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit, works to advance the quality of education for underserved students around the world by engaging technology pro bono consultants and solutions to support accredited nonprofits with a vision for how technology integration can help them amplify their impact on STEM teaching and learning. The goal is to build capacity for nonprofit staff, teachers, and students to use technology—including computer hardware, educational software, and digital content—to accelerate learning and build 21st century STEM skills, with a view towards expanding economic opportunities for learners in the global knowledge economy.
While each Team4Tech collaboration with a nonprofit partner is unique, most engagements follow a three-phase model. At the school level, this often begins by establishing a technology foundation and advancing teachers’ digital literacy and technical capacity. Successive projects build from this foundation to integrate relevant educational software and digital content to meet defined learning objectives. The final phase emphasizes student-centered teaching and learning, with capacity building workshops for teachers around project-based learning, including STEM-focused activities involving making, coding, and robotics.
Since its founding, Team4Tech has engaged over 400 technology professionals on 45 immersive service learning projects in 14 countries to advance the quality of STEM education for underserved students, while simultaneously providing leadership development and a socially impactful engagement for the employee volunteers. To date, this work has benefited 40,000 learners, and has mobilized more than $7.5M in pro bono consulting services and technology grants for local nonprofit partners. The strategic integration of emerging technologies into STEM education, especially in underserved communities and countries, can help create new economic opportunities and bridge the STEM skills gap in the job market.
Through Team4Tech’s partnership with the Greater Stellenbosch Development Trust, a nonprofit in Stellenbosch, South Africa, the team was able to provide technology infrastructure and training to the staff and teachers of Makupula High School. The principal at the school wanted to challenge the limitations of traditional classroom teaching and sought to focus on STEM education as a pathway for his students’ future economic opportunity. Across four years of projects, Team4Tech’s employee volunteers from Autodesk, Adobe, and Cadence worked with the school to install basic digital infrastructure, conduct teacher training workshops on STEM education and project-based learning, and lead multiple student “technology fun days” to inspire hands-on STEM learning, maker education activities, and coding and robotics projects.
It was through one Team4Tech project that we were able to engage with Likhonda. He shared his passion for designing cars, and the volunteers taught him how to use Tinkercad, Fusion 360, and Inventor design software. More importantly, the experience inspired him to remain diligent in his high school math classes so that he can pursue his dream to study engineering and computer science at the university level.
In Team4Tech’s last project in April 2018, collaborators were especially thrilled to learn that high school girls who had interacted with Team4Tech’s volunteers since the 8th grade were actively involved in and leading a Girls Who Code club for the Cape Town region in their computer lab. This group of young girls, who had engaged with multiple Team4Tech cohorts across their high school career—especially in befriending women engineers—expressed their dreams of pursuing various STEM careers, seeing opportunities for women they never realized were present. One of these girls expressed, “as females, we can now do males’ work. We are capable of doing such things!” The principal and multiple teachers expressed how transformative the experience had been for the students, who were now taking ownership of and making demands to use the computer lab for their own STEM learning.
All images courtesy of Team4Tech.
This article is part of a series on “solvable problems” within the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The Global Engagement Forum: Live takes place this October 10–11, 2018, bringing together leaders from across the private, public, and social sectors to co-create solutions and partnerships to address four urgent, yet solvable problems—closing the skills gap in STEM, reducing post-harvest food loss, ending energy poverty, and eliminating marine debris and ocean plastics. Learn more about the Forum here.