#CS4Philly launches today. Why it matters to local business.
December 6, 2017
Michelle Caffrey, Reporter, Philadelphia Business Journal
An ambitious project to bring computer science education into every Philadelphia school is launching Wednesday afternoon, backed by a robust contingent of city leaders who believe it has the potential to change the future of both the city’s students and the region's economy.
Representatives from the Greater Philadelphia tech industry, education system and city government will convene at City Hall for the Access_CS Summit – the kick-off for CS4Philly.
CS4Philly is a campaign, overseen by the Philadelphia STEM Lab, that has already drawn the backing of major organizations, nonprofits, public entities, the state’s Department of Education, academic institutions and corporate partners. Honorary campaign chairs include Comcast Senior Executive Vice President David L. Cohen, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia Dr. William Hite, Mayor Jim Kenney and tech CEO and entrepreneur Bob Moul.
The core mission is to prepare Philadelphia students for the technological transformation that’s taken hold of the global economy and is expected to only tighten its grip in future decades.
A recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute estimates automation will eliminate as many as a third of jobs in the U.S. by 2030. The jobs that will remain will require technological skills, but the need for a more tech-enabled workforce is already being felt in the region. The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia reported in May that 25 percent of all net new jobs created between 2002 and 2015 in the region were in tech, and estimates openings in that sector will increase from 2,600 to 4,400 annually over the next 10 years. When those figures are taken into context with the fact less than 2,600 IT-related degrees and credentials were awarded by colleges and universities in the region in 2015, and the city retains about 67 percent of its college graduates, there’s a clear gap. At the same time, the city’s 26 percent poverty rate is highest among the nation’s largest cities.
“Education is the number one headwind to economic growth for the business community. Business leaders should be very passionate about this,” Moul said. “There are half a million unfilled IT jobs in the country and thousands in Philadelphia ... we should try to fill [them] with kids in our own city.”
The campaign evolved from Moul’s “#TEaCH Tech” initiative, with Moul giving up seats on all but one of the boards he sat on to focus on the issue of tech education. Along the way, he connected with organizations, like the Philadelphia STEM Lab, already focused on the issue and formed a coalition of stakeholders and organizations to give the campaign a critical mass of support.
Moul stressed CS4Philly is also building on the work already being done by organizations like CodedByKids and TechGirlz to boost diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. That’s not just altruistic but good for business, said Naomi Housman, executive director and president of the Philadelphia STEM Lab.
“We don’t want to leave a whole bunch of people off the bridge to the future and don’t want to leave people out of the opportunity to have a good life," she said. "But also because when you think about creativity and innovation, the best work that we can do is when we have a diverse team."
Wednesday's summit, set during National Computer Science Education week, marks the first stage of the project. It includes an awareness campaign and collaborative meetings, with the first set to begin just an hour after Wednesday’s press conference, when about 25 computer science and other industry experts will gather at WeWork to start formulating a pilot program.
After testing out variations of the program, the end goal is to scale CS4Philly to every K-12 classroom, and another Access_CS Summit next year will check in on its progress. Based on conversations that happened along the way, Moul expects the initiative to be supported by private donations and potentially public grants.
There are challenges ahead – including finding time in the school day and building a base of tech educators, but the recent return of the school district to local control will give the initiative a leg up, he said.
Pennsylvania’s educational system also allows districts greater autonomy over curriculum, meaning they don’t have to rely on Washington, D.C. or Harrisburg to accomplish the task. Although Moul and Housman added a state mandate to make tech education a high school graduation requirement would be welcome.
Organizers, however, are not starting from scratch. There are similar initiatives like CS4All programs in New York and Chicago for guidance, though the program developed here will be tailored toward the city’s challenges and advantages.
“We know we can’t import a solution or follow a script. It has got to be a homegrown effort for it to have deep roots and be sustainable and cultivate a deep sense of ownership,” Housman said, adding she’s counting on the creativity in the region, across every sector, to reach the goal they’ve set out. “We have a lot of work to do.”