Underserved communities are universally disadvantaged in their access to resources and high-quality technical education compared to their urban counterparts. Data suggests that between 2000 and 2019, the number of college graduates (ages 25-34) in urban America increased from 26 percent to 39 percent, while in rural America, this number increased only by 6 percent(15 percent to 21 percent). This divide can be attributed to the convergence of resources, talent, and opportunities in urban clusters.
A game-changing tool for intervention – one primed to reshape these metrics for rural America, revitalize their economies, and uplift their people – is AI education. Today, the demand for AI adoption is increasing across the world. In fact, AI’s contribution to the global GDP is expected to soar to $15.7 trillion by 2030.
The technology’s applications span a range of business functions and industries, holding the promise of new efficiencies and automation. Therefore, partaking in opportunities that enable skills in the technology is imperative.
High-quality AI education can be monumental in empowering residents of rural and underserved America. Leveraging AI-powered career and business opportunities can greatly improve socio-economic status and address digital and economic divides.
There are distinct steps needed to successfully implement AI education offerings in schools in underserved America in order to yield a talent pool with highly marketable, in-demand skills.
Building the right foundation with effective courses and curriculum
A strong background in STEM is key to embracing AI – both as a career path and as a tool for business transformation. However, resources are scant in rural communities. According to a 2020 report, only 47 percent of high schools in America teach Computer Science courses. In non-urban areas only 43 percent of high schools in rural areas and 41 percent high schools in towns teaching computer science. In suburban and city areas, this number is 57 percent and 44 percent respectively.
These disparities are even wider while comparing some states. Only 19 percent of high schools in Louisiana offered CS courses – of which more were located in the cities – compared to 89 percent in Rhode Island. However, only an adept STEM student is most suited to pick up advanced AI skills. Therefore, it’s important to kindle interest from a child’s early years all the way to K-12, no matter where they live.
As kids begin to explore smartphones, gaming consoles, and household devices, responding to their curiosities with engaging explanations can help mold their interests into passion. Providing the option to pursue academic courses in pertinent topics such as Python, data analytics, and advanced mathematics can refine students’ skills and help them gain significant exposure in the discipline. According to the 2021 AI Index Report, there is already an uptick in AI-related courses in universities, with an increase of 102.9 percent in the undergraduate level and 41.7 percent in the graduate level within the last four years.
Students can also tap into creative elements such as programming music or interacting with AI powered robots for a more comprehensive and enjoyable learning experience.
For a more well-rounded pedagogy, there should be provisions for after-school clubs and team activities centering around AI applications. No matter their level of expertise on AI, all teachers should be trained to be cognizant of the latest developments and have sound proficiency to implement AI for tasks to improve efficiency with regards to automating administrative tasks. They should also have mastered creative strategies to teach. After all, better instructors inspire students to cultivate and nurture interest.
To enable this, stakeholders including school board members, policymakers, and educators need to collectively assess the needs of an institutions’ teachers and students. This assessment should take into consideration infrastructural resources, such as well-equipped computer labs, to allow the formulation of an executable plan specific to the institution’s needs.
Entering into strategic partnerships
For decisionmakers and citizens in underserved markets to develop confidence in AI, they need to first become aware of the possibilities AI has unlocked in various industries. From assessing risk and information in banking to monitoring crop and soil in agriculture, no industry has sequestered itself away from AI. Communicating this idea to stakeholders requires strategic partnerships.
The key stakeholders to help forward AI adoption are educational institutions, corporations, and government bodies. As a result, collaboration among all three is key. This enables an ecosystem with a vigorous infrastructure and sponsorship opportunities, while creating a nurturing environment for AI talent. Members of the community are then poised to take up these rewarding careers and subsequently uplift their communities.
Often, avenues such as expos, internships, career fairs, workshops, and knowledge-sharing sessions are effective in bringing together strategic collaborators. Local businesses play a big role in advancing AI awareness and career prospects within their communities. Similarly, local governments also have a responsibility to understand the potential of AI and improve citizens’ well-being and provide incentives for local businesses to adopt AI. The City of Las Vegas, Nevada has utilized AI for its autonomous vehicle initiative and has incorporated other technological innovations to improve city operations, while companies like Lyft ran trials and Audi received data from the city.
If the goal is to revive economies, communities need to be on similar trajectories to digitally inclined cities elsewhere and attract AI innovation in underserved areas and generate life-changing employment opportunities. Local decisionmakers need to ensure all groups of people in their communities have equitable access to reliable technologies. Governments need to put in place programs that facilitate production, engagement, and retention of talent. This all converges towards a robust AI ecosystem driven by strong AI education programs. Alignment can be achieved between education institutes and local governments through adequate budget allocations, grants, and localized AI courses.
Empowering the future leaders of AI
People should be able to gain skills and experience, no matter their place of residence. With high-quality AI education, students can improve their lives and become globally competent in a business world that is increasingly facilitated by technology. This way, the socio-economic marginalization faced by rural communities can be ameliorated and our collective future can become more equitable.
To intervene successfully, a needs assessment of the educational landscape is pivotal. Getting insights from educators and students as to why AI programs have not engaged enough students can be highly beneficial to planning strategy. Educational departments and school superintendents can also be valuable to pointing out gaps in the AI education infrastructure and to help assess what resources can help bridge that.
For effective AI education deployment, all state governments should have thorough AI education plans and benchmarks education institutions must meet. Teachers should be adequately skilled to teach AI subjects. Institutions should also be constantly in touch with local business partners and create specific industry catered courses whose graduates local businesses can hire. To nurture engagement, institutions should strategically organize fairs and present students networking opportunities with officials from big companies who are constantly looking for new talent in a range of roles.
All of the above steps can be implemented to create an equitable and innovative future. AI integration is inevitable in every sphere of our society. The success of the interventions mentioned above is contingent on the implementations made.
All in all, these are important measures to a comprehensive AI rollout and strategies that stakeholders, particularly education institutions, can leverage to be important change makers in today’s fast-paced digital world. AI education still can offset the inequalities that have come to be, and it is a must that all sections of society give serious thought to tap into its benefits to undo socio-economic marginalization of underserved communities.
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