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Coding in schools: learning the skills for the jobs of the future

As technology becomes more and more important both in everyday life and in professional workplaces, new challenging ways of teaching arrive at classrooms.

Viernes, 5 Octubre, 2018

hora del código

Experts underline the relevance of students learning code as a new literacy, in order to be prepared to the world of tomorrow.

Technology dominates our lifestyles today. Have you ever wondered what would you do if you suddenly lose any connection to the Internet? Do you ever spend an entire day without looking at your smartphone?

Besides being essential to the majority of the people, electronic devices and digital software are increasingly designed to be easier to use. We rely on apps that just have to be installed from one of the main online stores. Therefore, only professionals are qualified to perform complex tasks on computers.  

Older millennials grew with analogue technology and may have faced the intricate world of computer science from time to time. But this situation does not apply to younger audiences. So, especially in western societies where tech has become a tool of high relevance, how important it is for our young people to learn to code in an early stage of their lives?

 

Learning coding skills in schools: is it still a privilege?

According to the “Technology in US schools” report from PWC, by 2020, 77% of all jobs will require some degree of technological skills. That fact reflects the true nature of the concern about preparing our students for a digital era.

But from this study, another challenge surfaces: students may not have access to that kind of technology at home, and teachers may not be skilled for that sort of training.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, in Canada, similar issues arise. 9 out of 10 Canadian parents think that their children would be better suited for the jobs of tomorrow if they learn how to code. But besides being a reference country in social welfare, Actua’s National Coding Survey reveals that a third of Canadian students get the opportunity of learning coding skills at their schools.

The European Commission provides funds for an initiative called the “EU Code Week”, mainly designed to help teachers throughout the member countries the digital skills to encourage their students into the programming world. A whole array of materials can be accessed online and the key goal is to reach 50% of all schools in Europe by 2020.

However, while rich countries can benefit from a growing interest in this matter, Third World children face a dividing gap in terms of digitization of their own countries. According to “Children in a Digital World” report by UNICEF, about 29% of youth worldwide are not online. It is especially severe when it comes to Africa: around 60% of African youth are not online, compared with just 4% in Europe.

 

Private initiatives spearheading vanguard education

Not all the programmes and initiatives destined to train youth in coding and digital skills come from governments and public institutions. Industry giants such as IBM, Facebook and Apple have designed their own enterprises to instruct tomorrow’s tech leaders.

One perfect example is Facebook’s CodeFWD: a free online education initiative destined to teachers that would like to inspire their students to pursue computer programming. Its materials are created for both Spanish and English speaking students and it is conceptualized to be used in three phases. Firstly, educators are trained in the matter; secondly, students and teachers learn together after those first steps in programming; and finally, students practice their newly learned skills with the supervision of their teachers. After the completion of the programme, as Engadget highlights, educators can apply for a free Sphero Bolt Power Pack (a programmable robot equipment, valued in $2,500).

Another initiative is IBM’s “Watson goes to school” research project. As reported in Business Insider, it is a mix of artificial intelligence, robotics and computer science. It will bring this kind of technology to 22 high schools in Madrid, Spain. Rafael Van Grieken, Education and Research Counsellor for the Madrid Autonomous Community, has said that these initiatives “are basic to prepare future generations to have the tools and skills required for the forthcoming employment opportunities”.  

 

Not governmental nor private: NGOs for the sake of education

In an article for the online magazine Education Week, coding is defined as the new literacy for the 21st century. As the Oxford Dictionary says, literacy means “the ability to read and write”, but also a “competence or knowledge in a specified area”. Such is the importance of coding for our future kids that this magazine elevates it to the category of literacy. On its conclusions, the author says that we are accustomed to consuming digital technologies, but only those able to produce them will be “in charge of their own destinies”.

This broad concern has brought to the table another kind of enterprises that are neither public or private, but non-profit and non-governmental. Code.org, an initiative which donors include Microsoft or Amazon, among many others, raises the stakes to a higher level. Through their message “anybody can learn”, their main goal is to promote computer science as something foundational. In fact, they compare today’s common school subjects to other skill set in tune with our times: “Every 21st-century child should have a chance to learn about algorithms, how to make an app, or how the internet works”.

 

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