Google is funding CUNY teacher training to push computer science into diverse city classrooms

“Technology will end up touching most things,” Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said during a roundtable with reporters. “It’s not that all jobs will be technology jobs—[computer science] education is not about making everyone become coders. It is just, I think, a first step, getting people comfortable with it so that it builds confidence.”

Building confidence is crucial, Pichai said, because without it “the gaps that exist today will be exacerbated.”

Across the five boroughs, for instance, Black and Hispanic workers make up 43% of the workforce but hold only one in five tech-sector jobs, according to a July report from the Center for an Urban Future. The vast majority of the city’s tech jobs—76%—are held by men, the study found.

The tech sector accounts for 5.2% of the city’s private-sector employment, up from 2.6% in 2010. During the past 12 years, the sector added 114,000 jobs—a growth rate of 142%—and made up 17% of the city’s overall job growth, according to the report.

Despite several high-profile layoffs in companies with a tech focus and the rise of remote work, a May survey of 350 tech executives in the city found that 71% of the companies planned to increase tech talent hires this year, according to research by Accenture and Tech:NYC. Some 87% of those executives said they were confident new hires could be secured locally.

A hurdle to diversifying the talent pool is computer science education.

“One of the biggest challenges in trying to increase access to computer science is obviously teachers,” said Justin Steele, the Americas director for Google’s charitable arm, Google.org. “We know that low-income schools have half as many computer science offerings as higher-income schools, and a big reason for that is just the availability of teachers to teach the curriculum, and so the CUNY partnership is going to be really critical.”

The $17 million CUNY program, which started in 2019 with pilot funding from the Robin Hood Foundation, helps the university’s faculty give K–12 educators the tools they need to bake computing literacy into their teaching. It is done through curriculum design, professional development and research. Overall, the program ensures that 1,700 teachers annually are equipped with know-how to start bridging the digital divide in their communities.

CUNY is one of a handful of grant recipients in the NYC Tech Opportunity Fund. The remaining grantees are expected to be announced in the coming weeks. The fund is part of a $20 million national initiative to boost access to computer science education across the country in underrepresented communities.

Increasing access to computer science, CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez told Crain’s, is key to fostering a more equitable tech workforce in the long term.

“We should, over time, have students who are a lot more interested, and feel they are a lot more confident, in computer science,” Matos Rodríguez said. “And hopefully this goes into mitigating some of these gaps in the number of women and people of color to take advantage of growth in the sector.”

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