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The Evolution of Education, Tech and Youth in a Post-Covid Era

By Audrey Russo, President and CEO, Pittsburgh Technology Council

Four years since the world stopped or so it seemed, Covid 19 certainly will be marked as an era, an inflection and a period which will propel much research as well as an army of anecdotal narratives that will shape how we believe that time stood still. Or did it?

For me, it was a time of rapid acceleration. For the team at the Tech Council, we connected with our members, all day and almost every day. Understanding impact, connecting with resources, holding noon Zoom discussions with people who were grappling with every issue imaginable (and those we never imagined). 

The realization of how many of our children were left out of learning made our team awash with a new purpose to ensure that the internet was a utility that many in our own neighborhoods were without.  Education and informational access were severed. Health care had been attempting telemedicine for a decade prior. Covid 19 punched the gaping holes into full view. We could no longer minimize the profound impact. 

The thought of education via cyber was not new. Those children who were home schooled had embraced experiential learning leveraging cyber coursework. But they were outliers. There were children, across our own communities, who were left out and disconnected. They were stymied by what our educational institutions provided them which they no longer had. 

Four years later, we remain wrestling with accessible childcare (never mind the daily hiccups of inconsistent care during Covid) AND the repercussions of traditional education, when kids were not immersed in what had been routine. Resilience surely is one of the beautiful characteristics of youth, but when the world changes across all generations. There are bound to be alterations that last; those are permanent shifts. 

Now as we convene through our STEM programs, teachers, high school students and private sector companies, we converge to explore the opportunities which exist right in our backyards, facilitating the awareness of skills that are needed right now and as we imagine the future. 

If we don’t ensure that rich dialogue occurs about the opportunities, we will have lost. As a region, if we do not accelerate connecting the dots for prosperity, community engagement and educational tools we will, if we have not already, felt the impact. 

We are all wrestling with the exponential growth of tools that create solutions. Few would have thought that four years ago, having Zoom / Google meetups / Microsoft Teams, would be not only acceptable but fully embraced across educational and business. 

The development of protocols for using AI in “classrooms” and ethical implications for social media, cyber bullying, depression and now potentially banning TikTok are in everyone’s daily conversations. When we used to talk about limiting access to technology in classrooms and banning certain applications at work, those were yesterday’s dilemmas. Today we do not use the works - bring your technology to work – instead we assume you come to work as a digital native with competencies which once seemed elite.

The world may have stopped four years ago but the proliferation of technology did not. Which is why we continue to find ways to ensure there is a seamless interaction between students and businesses. Pittsburgh region is rich with research and development which require leadership. Our students in high school must see these opportunities, not just have 30 second clips of information that never finds its way into personalized feeds. We have to craft experiential moments where students and teachers speak with those who are building companies. 

Rapid technological change still requires human relationships. Relationships can start through technology but there always is a path of human contact. XR / VR / AR Autonomy, AI tools will all be embedded into learning. Count on the next four years not to replicate what we have seen. Hold on tight and join us on this fantastic ride.