IDAHO DIGITAL LEARNING ACADEMY: Building Idaho's future workforce

by Malcolm Hong

A strong workforce is the lifeblood that fuels the growth of a healthy state economy. However, according to non-profit Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America (ASTRA), Idaho is projected to grow the number of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs to 88,630 by 2025. Because of the dynamics of administering a robust education in a rural state, Idaho has several challenges to overcome to create the talent required to fill these positions. But thanks to the efforts of the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA), the talent gap is getting smaller each day.   

The Idaho Digital Learning Academy is Idaho’s state sponsored online school created by the Idaho Legislature in 2002. IDLA accomplishes its mission through providing online courses, professional development for educators, and support for integrating technology in schools. For a rural state like Idaho, where it can be difficult for small school districts to gain access to advanced classes or professional training, IDLA is a game changer. In the first year of enrollment, IDLA served 850 students, today, 25,480 students are enrolled.

As part of its mission, IDLA seeks to expand course offerings in areas that urgently need to be filled in Idaho schools. Through its involvement in the community, leaders of IDLA were invited to join the education committee organized through the Idaho Technology Council (ITC). Members of IDLA and the ITC agreed that providing greater access to computer science education would not only prepare Idaho students for jobs of the future, but also provide opportunities to build foundational skills relevant for all future careers.

Blaine Bergeson, one of the committee chairs, explained, “Most students will not graduate with a degree in computer science, but that is not the main purpose for teaching computer science to all students at all grade levels.  It should be taught to all students because it develops fundamental skills in creativity, logic, collaboration, and both verbal and written communication. I know of no other subject that has the ability to develop such a broad set of skills that are foundational to many fields of study and has become essential in almost all careers and entertainment.”

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