The Education Gap, Technology, and the Economy

Technology education is the key to lowering unemployment.

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Roy Gilbert is the CEO of Grockit, a social learning company.

A seatback TV on a cross-country flight is not always a great thing. In the middle of one of the most turbulent swings in the stock market this fall, I spent six hours on a flight with two thirds of the TV screens tuned to financial news. Just about everyone was watching the ups and downs of the market, and as expected, the flight attendants were busier than normal with in-flight drink service.

The next morning I was listening to an older podcast from NPR's Planet Money as I set out for a run, and the topic of the day, of course, was the state of the U.S. economy. I had had enough financial news and was just about to press "skip" when I heard some powerful stats about unemployment.

While the unemployment rate in the U.S. is at 9 percent, it is far lower for educated workers. Have a college degree? The rate is 4 percent. Have a professional degree like a JD, MBA, or STEM degree? Two percent unemployment, a rate so low economists say it is theoretically impossible.

None of this information is particularly new. But when you hear the stats, especially in the middle of these financial swings, it's a stark reminder of the differences in employment between those who are highly educated and those who are not.

Anyone who has taken a macroeconomics class knows that improving national educational standards across a country is the key to economic health and prosperity. And yet, in America, a large number of our high school students are not even taking the steps necessary to attend a four-year college, much less pursue the technical degrees that can help them secure jobs. Fewer than half of the 6 million to 7 million students who are eligible to take the SAT--one of the key exams required for admission to many U.S. colleges and universities--actually take the test. Sadly, politicians are focused on discovering near-term plans for job creation instead of focusing on the clear long-term fix: encouraging more young Americans to pursue higher education.

With technology we have an opportunity to engage young students in compelling learning experiences and ultimately grow the proportion of high school students accepted to and completing four-year colleges. And even more, we have an opportunity to get students excited about technology and other STEM-related topics. Young people are using technology every day to communicate, play games, share videos, listen to music, and more. They should be utilizing technology just as much, if not more, for learning and studying together, and helping each other achieve dreams of higher education.

Our challenge as a country is to give people educational tools that are as engaging and interactive as the devices they use for entertainment. If students are studying more, they'll perform better in their classes; they'll be better prepared for major academic and testing milestones; and they'll earn more of the four-year and advanced degrees that can significantly contribute to decreasing long-term unemployment rates. While there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the current economy, we know that building a more educated workforce is one certainty we should all be striving to attain.

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