City officials are expanding an education partnership with Microsoft that focuses on training low-income kids and young adults to use technology, with new programs focused on big data and artificial intelligence.
The expansion is part of the “Internet of Things” alliance between Microsoft and Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration, launched in May 2018. Microsoft’s new program, called Accelerate: Houston, will provide digital skills instruction in Houston schools, such as LinkedIn workshops and wide-ranging DigiCamps.
“This means Houston will boldly lead United States cities in adapting new technologies to create economic opportunities, close equity gaps and enhance quality of life,” said Turner, who has sought to position Houston as a more attractive site for tech companies and entrepreneurs.
Microsoft officials said they are putting $1 million into programs “that support social entrepreneurship and other initiatives” at Rice University’s Ion Innovation District as part of the expansion, though the company has yet to announce a total price tag for the new programs.
As part of Accelerate: Houston, Microsoft also is training K-12 and college educators on using technology in the classroom, and providing digital literacy workshops and “other development training” for veterans and people who are transitioning jobs.
City officials will help coordinate the programs and work with the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, to develop what Turner called a “comprehensive local strategy for artificial intelligence and digital transformation” aimed at preparing Houston for a “changing economic landscape.”
Turner and Microsoft officials stressed at a news conference Monday that tech programs for low-income residents are especially key during COVID-19, during which Houston schools have lost contact with tens of thousands of students.
Advocates and elected officials have expressed concerns that Black and Hispanic students disproportionately lack access to laptops or internet needed for remote classes. Houston ISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said schools within the district will participate in the Microsoft program this school year, which begins Sept. 8, though she did not say which schools would be included.
“We’ll be working with Microsoft to design the programming for the students, when they’ll get online and get started, initially in a virtual format,” Lathan said.