AWS and Washington state launch cloud coaching, however educators have huge questions on rollout

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On Monday, AWS held an event at its Skills Center in Seattle to announce an initiative to provide cloud computing education for high school students in Washington. (Ryan Warner Photography)

Amazon Web Services and Washington state officials this week announced a new partnership to provide cloud computing education for high school students. AWS, the market-leading public cloud provider, aims to train and certify 2,500 Washington students within the next three years.

The ambitious initiative hopes to have teachers offering instruction beginning next fall, and the state would like to see the AWS curriculum being taught in every high school and skill center.

The AWS program is aimed at high school juniors and seniors who have already taken some basic computer science classes. The tech company has developed a two-semester foundational cloud course for high school students, who can go on to take more advanced courses that lead to AWS certifications.

Seattle-area educators are excited to bring instruction in cutting-edge technology to their students, but say there are big questions and challenges that need resolving.

Juan Lozano, Highline Public Schools. (LinkedIn Photo)

For Juan Lozano, assistant principal/director for the Puget Sound Skills Center, key issues are: How do we get staff prepared, and students ready and interested?

“Those are the two big challenges. But the opportunities are great,” Lozano said. His center focuses on specialized career and technical training, serving high school juniors and seniors in Highline Public Schools located south of Seattle. Lozano attended the event Monday announcing the partnership.

There’s a clear and growing demand for skilled workers in cloud computing. Last year, Washington had 165,486 cloud job postings, with roughly half of them going unfilled, according to Economic Modeling Specialist International (EMSI).

But students still might not sign up. Many could lack the basic computer background required. College-bound students might see a difficult tech course as a threat to their GPA. The idea that you could get training in high school that leads directly to a good job can be hard for students to wrap their heads around after years of hearing the mantra that higher ed is essential.

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On the instruction side, AWS is offering free professional development and training for teachers, though educators were waiting for key details about what that will look like. The company says it will also provide a limited number of AWS certification exams for teachers. Those who plan to teach the more advanced courses will also need to complete an evaluation to verify their proficiency.

Attendees at the announcement of the AWS cloud education program, from left to right: Kim Majerus, vice president of U.S. education and state and local government at AWS; Rebecca Wallace, assistant superintendent of Secondary Education and Pathway Preparation at OSPI; Rep. Sharon Santos; Sen. Lisa Wellman; Rep. Mari Leavitt; Rep. Kelly Chambers; and Lt. Gov. Denny Heck. (Ryan Warner Photography)

Once students and teachers are onboard, the courses need to fold into already busy schedules and limited time available for electives.

For their part, teachers in the Bellevue School District are excited by the initiative, said Marilyn Henselman, the district’s director of Career and Technical Education Programs. One instructor has already been working with the curriculum and is a big fan.

Bellevue, admittedly, is one of the best-positioned districts in the state to run with this sort of opportunity. Many computer science teachers have worked at Microsoft, which is based in the neighboring city of Redmond.

“We happen to be in a really great area,” Henselman said.

Marilyn Henselman, director of Career and Technical Education Programs for the Bellevue School District. (LinkedIn Photo)

What is less clear is how the initiative plays out in rural areas with fewer resources and teachers who don’t have professional tech backgrounds.

“That’s always concerned me,” Henselman said. To help solve this, she envisions a program where educators with deep tech expertise teach the classes virtually as a team with in-person teachers who have less experience, but can grow their understanding along the way.

The cloud education effort has support from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the Washington Training and Education Coordinating Board, a government agency that helps oversee workforce training efforts.

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“Our economy and the needs of employees and employers are evolving, and the K-12 system has to evolve with it. I’m thankful for this collaboration with AWS, which will make a difference for many of our students,” said Chris Reykdal, Washington’s state superintendent of public instruction, in a statement.

Students completing the more in-depth courses will be able to pursue AWS certifications such as AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, AWS Certified Solution Architect – Associate, and AWS Certified Developer – Associate.

The announcement was made at the newly opened Amazon Web Services Skills Center in downtown Seattle. The center is focused on providing cloud computing training for adult workers and exposing people to potential career paths in cloud.

“It’s a step in the right direction and in the end it will be great,” said Lozano. “But how quickly can we mobilize?”

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