Empowering Global Youth Through Access to Computer Science Education

By Anna Howarth, Citizenship Manager, Microsoft Australia

Three years ago, the world was in the midst of an economic crisis. Youth around the world were affected more than any other demographic by poverty and unemployment. As a technology company, Microsoft saw the widening opportunity gap and recognised the importance of technology skills for helping youth to bridge that gap. With this in mind, we launched the YouthSpark initiative in 2012 to create education, employment, and entrepreneurial opportunities for young people through access to technology skills. We’re pleased to share that we exceeded the ambitious goal we set to create opportunities for 300 million youth around the world by 2015, and we have done so through partnership with hundreds of nonprofit organisations around the globe, including the Smith Family, Infoxchange and ABCN here in Australia.

Today, with technology more ubiquitous than ever, we believe we can make an even more profound societal impact with a new goal for YouthSpark: to create the opportunity for all youth to learn computing – a foundational subject that includes both information communications technology and computer science and teaches students about the world around them, empowering them to become well-informed citizens and imaginative creators in our complex and ever-changing global society.

Driving toward this goal is critical. All youth must have the opportunity to learn how technology works – how it is created and leveraged to serve a wide range of societal and economic needs. This education will empower young people in a multitude of ways across all jobs, careers, industries and geographies – to the building of our future, to the solving of our societal challenges, today and tomorrow.

A compelling example is the story of Opaque Multimedia, who won the 2015 Imagine Cup (World Citizenship) for the project The Virtual Dementia Experience (VDE).

There are 56 million people in the world living with dementia – with an estimated 335,000 in Australia.

The dynamic Opaque Multimedia group from Swinburne University of Technology, which includes James Bonner, Liam McGuire, Chris Mackenzie and Norman Wang, created a virtual reality platform, replicating what it’s like to have dementia by using experiential learning principles and motion sensor technology. To do this, the team adopted traditional entertainment and gaming technology. The VDE was launched with the Dementia Learning Centre on 24th October 2013.

The story of Opaque and many, many other young people we have been honoured to meet along the YouthSpark journey – inspired a commitment, announced on 16 September by our CEO Satya Nadella, for Microsoft to invest $75 million over the next three years to increasing access to computer science education for all youth, and especially for those from under-represented backgrounds.

We are excited to take this next step on the YouthSpark journey, but we cannot do it alone. We invite the community to partner, to collaborate, to imagine and to create – all the ways that, together, we will empower young people to achieve more – for themselves, their families, their communities, and our world.


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