Just offering students opportunities to learn coding is not enough, says the CEO of Chapel Hill-based Youth Digital.

In the second part of a Q&A, Justin Richards talks about the roles of parents, teachers and schools – and how to get more girls as well as minorities on STEM career tracks.

  • How can parents help them get started?

Parents can harness the opportunity that technology offers by empowering their kids to go from consumers of technology to creators of technology. Instead of simply playing a mobile game, encourage them to create one. Instead of spending hours watching Minecraft videos, help them create their own.

There are a number of resources that can help parents can accomplish this including toys and games that are designed to build tech skills, enrolling them in online technology courses or tech summer camps, and giving them experiences that evoke an interest in technology, like visiting science museums or attending local tech-focused events.

The main thing we have seen as a driver for success is parents who engage with the technology their kids love.

  • How can teachers encourage them?

Many teachers already foster a tech-friendly environment in their classrooms, whether they regularly allow students to use technology as a learning tool, or if they incorporate tech-focused activities into the curriculum. There are a number of opportunities for teachers to take it a step further by weaving technology into every aspect of their classroom.

They can use practical applications of technology such as sharing assignments via Google Docs, or posting lessons on YouTube for students to study, as well as encouraging the use of technology in school assignments, such as allowing kids to create a video game based on a book instead of a traditional book report.

Creating a tech-focused environment in school will translate to increased tech skills for students, as well as an enriched learning experience.

However, the most important thing is to remember that technology is a tool, a means to accomplishing an end, not an end itself. If the tool does not drive real learning forward, the use of that tool should be reevaluated.

  • How can schools and school district leaders foster a more tech-friendly environment?

Many schools today already incorporate technology into their classrooms and curriculum; however, not all schools are embracing technology.

Currently only a quarter of K-12 schools offer computer science classes that teach programming or coding, and only 28 out of the 50 states allow those courses to count towards high school graduation requirements, according to the White House. Schools should make it a priority to incorporate technology both into classrooms and the curriculum in a meaningful way.

Technology education courses should count towards high school graduation, but school districts can take it a step further by requiring computer science for each student as a graduation requirement, like Chicago Public Schools just did.

Schools should recognize that tech skills are the new literacy for our digital world, and design their classrooms and curriculums with that in mind.

  • How can we get more minorities involved?

Making technology education accessible to all students should absolutely be a priority.

The President’s new Computer Science for All initiative, which proposed over $4 billion in funding for schools to increase their computer science offerings, is a good first step in extending technology education to all students.

Because there are not a lot of schools and programs that offer robust technology programs, geographic location can often prevent students from learning to create with technology, even if they want to. This is one of the reasons we launched online courses, to reach the kids without access to those programs.

What is great is that there are plenty of online resources that can help kids learn to create with technology. As those resources become more ubiquitous, we can quickly reach students from every area of the country, giving them all the ability to create from a young age.

  • How can we get more girls involved?

The movement to involve more girls in technology is one that’s very important to me and my company.

The best way we have found is to simply create great technology courses, period. Our online courses and summer camps are designed to appeal to all students, both girls and boys.

Also, there are a lot of great resources out there for parents to get their daughters involved with initiatives like Girls Who Code and Girl’s Day, which can help them meet other like-minded girls and foster a community of young female tech enthusiasts.