By Olivia Allen
Today, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are crucial fields when it comes to driving innovation, yet businesses in the United States are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit qualified STEM employees into their workforce due to a skills gap. According to the Gates Foundation, just 25% of high school graduates in the United States have the necessary skills to prepare them for college and the workforce. Technological innovation in the education sector is one part of the Gates Foundation’s three-pronged approach to education reform, and social enterprises such as Khan Academy have responded to this issue through providing an open source, online platform so anyone can access a world-class education.
On the grassroots level, Roshni Mirchandani, a 2011 graduate of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business with concentrations in Finance, Marketing, and Social Entrepreneurship, and current Teach for America Corp member has successfully harnessed coding and other educational-focused technologies into her class’s 8th math curriculum.
As an active participant in the Social Enterprise Institute field study programs, Mirchandani felt compelled to “do something that made a larger impact on society as a whole.” After graduation, Mirchandani joined Teach for America’s 2011 Corps, serving as an 7th and 8th grade math teacher in Providence, Rhode Island.
Her sharp focus on incorporating technology into the math curriculum was first ignited by a grant that placed iPads in the classroom, and the positive response it generated among students. “Student engagement levels were at its highest when they were on the tablets — and understandably so, since our students have grown up in the digital age. It was only natural to teach using the tools that they use everyday instead of forcing them to digest information from textbooks, said Mirchandani.
While many teachers are hesitant to embrace tech-centric classroom, Mirchandani has made considerable gains in her classroom and has the power to mitigate education inequity. “I believe that integrating technology in the classroom is a possible solution to educational inequity. Even in a low-income school with students entering 3–4 grade levels behind, educational technology helped my students demonstrate the highest growth in math scores in the entire state on the Rhode Island State Assessment (NECAP).” For Mirchandai’s students, 90% of which live below the poverty line, “venturing into more real-life applications, students were finally able to grasp why it was important to learn math in school. By teaching them how school applies to daily life and how they can craft their own journey, I hope to show my students the value of education.”
Despite the success Mirchandani and her students have shared as a result of technology in the classroom, she asserts that ed-tech is not a panacea and requires experimentation and student input. “There is no one-size-fits-all answer to tech integration — what may work in one classroom may not for another. For example, I had some colleagues who loved using Khan Academy. I actually stopped using it in my class because it wasn’t working for my students,” said Mirchandani.
In addition to impacting her student’s lives and potentially career trajectories, the ed-tech space has inspired Mirchandani to scale technology in the classroom. I would like to spread the impact of educational technology and help other teachers and schools bring innovation into their classroom. I would also like to work with ed-tech companies to ensure that their products are feasible in the classroom and will help teachers instead of burdening them.”