Microsoft’s Akhtar Badshah Reflects on STEM Ed. in the U.S.

From guest blogger Katie Ash.

Tech giant Microsoft’s YouthSpark program has an ambitious goal: to extend educational, entrepreneurial, and employment opportunities to 300 million youth in 100 countries around the world over a three-year period.

The program, which was launched last September, is on track to meet its goal, having reached 80 million youth so far, says Akhtar Badshah, the senior director of citizenship and public affairs for the Redmond, Wash.-based company, who recently swung through my home town of Portland, Oregon to talk about how the company is attempting to engage youth and cultivate the innovators and entrepreneurs of the future. Addressing a crowd of international aid and business members, Badshah spoke about the role of business in connecting youth with opportunities to learn about technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

The multi-faceted YouthSpark program includes Give for Youth, a Kickstarter-esque platform that crowdsources funding for youth-led projects; YouthSpark summer camps, where youth can attend free classes about technology; and the Challenge for Change, a contest that asks youth in the U.S. to send in videos detailing what kinds of positive changes they’d like to make in their communities for a chance to win $2,500, a Windows phone 8 and an Xbox, and a trip to Kenya.

After his talk, I sat down with Badshah to ask him more questions about the state of science, technology, engineering, and math education in the U.S., what role if any companies should play in helping to close achievement gaps, and how the United States’ performance in those areas compares to that of other countries.

Click on the SoundCloud widgets below to hear Badshah’s answers.

What skills do you think are most important for students to have when they leave high school in order to be competitive in today’s global economy?

Are students receiving the education they need to succeed after K-12?

In your talk, you mentioned that only 2,000 high schools offer computer science courses, and part of the reason is because those who study computer science tend to work for companies, rather than choosing careers in K-12 teaching. What can we do to help encourage those with tech expertise teach in the classroom?

How does the U.S. education system compare to other countries’ systems?

How is technology changing the way students are taught?

What needs to change to encourage more students to pursue STEM subjects?

(It’s worth noting that not everyone thinks there is a lack of qualified students seeking further education and employment in STEM subjects. A recent paper by the Economic Policy Institute argues that colleges and universities are producing a strong supply of graduates in STEM areas.)

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