The Digital Divide: Bridging the Gap, Starting with Grade School Education

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As remote working and online learning became the norm, the coronavirus pandemic exposed a growing gap in our nation’s digital divide, the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the internet and those who do not.

Without access to computers or reliable Wi-Fi, students in low-income communities struggled through online learning, falling further behind. To help bridge this gap, it is imperative to get STEM programs and resources into more schools. 

Many students from low-income families are not aware of all the ever-changing STEM industry has to offer. The evolving technology can help them learn, advance their studies, and provide broader options for their future careers. 

One area of technology that continues to evolve is 3D printing. More and more schools are integrating 3D printing as an important part of their curriculum from elementary to higher education. However, when you think of new technology, you don’t necessarily think about low-income schools. If the low-income schools do not receive the proper resources, they will continue to fall behind, further increasing the digital divide. 

Why is it important for kids from low-income households to learn 3D CAD?

  1. It is the future. 3D CAD is quickly becoming part of the toolkit that professionals use in a range of fields. 3D CAD is a technology long used by engineers and architects to design everything from watches to buildings and chemical plants. Engineers hire drafters knowledgeable in 3D CAD to draft the designs. With the development of 3D printing, 3D CAD will increase in demand. Augmented reality and virtual reality also depend on 3D CAD. Many futurists envision a world where 3D printers will be like microwaves, and people will simply load a CAD to print everyday supplies at home. Although this may seem far-fetched, 3D CAD is currently used to develop the models for 3D printing everything from shoes to organs. As these technologies get cheaper, they will be more accessible to the average person. 

Workplace tools are taught in schools. For example, in the accounting field, students are expected to be proficient with spreadsheets. Similarly, students in the engineering industry are expected to be proficient in 3D CAD software. The earlier these common workplace tools are taught in schools, and the more ready and proficient our future workforce will be. This leads us to the second reason kids from low-income households should learn 3D CAD. 

  1. 3D CAD is relatively easy for young students to start learning. Although it may not seem like 3D CAD is easy to learn, I have been involved in STEM programs that teach grade school students from a low-income community in Houston, Texas, how to design in 3D CAD. Through this work, it has become apparent that children can learn these technologies similar to the way children have learned to animate videos for Youtube or make their own music for Soundcloud. 
  2. 3D CAD is practical. Any company that makes anything needs a design, and they will have to hire a drafter to develop this design.
  3. It is well paid. 3D CAD drafting is a high-paid and growing discipline of STEM that does not require a college degree. You can search the web for the latest salaries, but it is not uncommon for drafters to have a salary similar to that of a nurse, even without a bachelor’s degree.
  4. It is entrepreneurial. CAD drafters are like contractors; they can work on a project basis. This kind of job is great for people who want to open their own small businesses and consulting firms to support engineering firms worldwide. Plus, you do not need a lot of overhead, and you can work from home.

3D CAD technology also teaches children how to build things and turn their thoughts into tangible objects. 

While the STEM industries continue to evolve, it is important to consider the digital divide. Help bridge the gap in knowledge, opportunity and accessibility by supporting programs that teach STEM curriculum to low-income communities and expose children to new technology, ultimately providing them with broader career options for their futures. 

About the author: Nelia Mazula has 20 years of experience in the industrial digital transformation space, specifically in oil and gas working with large Fortune 500 companies. She is an expert in 3D, 3D printing, AI and IIoT, and a recent recipient of five patent recognition awards by the Society of Women Engineers


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