As Canada’s tech industry grows, people with computer coding and programming skills are in increasingly higher demand, which means young people entering the workforce are concentrating more on computers and how to master the code and manipulate the data they run on. A 2016 study by the Information and Communications Technology Council predicts 182,000 skilled information and communications technology (ICT) workers will be needed in 2019, with another 36,000 required in 2020. Because there is such a shortage at the moment, a bidding war has erupted amongst companies searching for computer-savvy employees.
To start off with, why is there now such a focus on teaching students to learn how to code and program computers?
In the field of education, there is a growing focus on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics commonly known as STEM. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning model based on real-world applications; one of those being software coding.
We are already living in a world dominated by software. For instance, your telephone and television go over software-controlled networks; anyone who uses a phone is relying on software code; we are all online now and without code the internet would not work.
And if things progress the way there are, the next generation’s world will be even more online and digital. Soon, your house will be controlled with software, some of your medical care will be delivered over the web and your car may even drive itself; all of that requires computer software coding skills. So as you can see, software is becoming a critical layer of all our lives. You could say, is becoming the language of our world. In the future, not knowing the language of computers might be as challenging as someone who is unable to read or write today.
Will every job in the future involve programming?
Most definitely not but based on many predictive studies there seems to be a need for a lot more skilled computer-savvy software coders in the near future and so in order to meet the demands many provinces are looking to our kids to teach them how to code.
This is not primarily about equipping the next generation to work as software engineers, it is about promoting computational thinking. Computational thinking is how software engineers solve problems. It combines mathematics, logic and algorithms, and teaches you a new way to think about the world.
Computational thinking teaches you how to tackle large problems by breaking them down into a sequence of smaller, more manageable problems. It allows you to tackle complex problems in efficient ways that operate at huge scale. It involves creating models of the real world with a suitable level of abstraction, and focus on the most pertinent aspects. It helps you go from specific solutions to general ones.
Are kids keeping up with coding and how is it taught to them throughout Canada?
As of this school year, coding is already a mandatory part of the curriculum in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and BC. Alberta and Manitoba are starting to introduce options while Ontario and Saskatchewan are making it an optional part of the curriculum to varying degrees.
As far as Newfoundland Labrador, there are numerous initiatives currently implemented; one for instance is a pilot program by NATI (The Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology Industries ) which just began this month launching a coding program for grades 4-6 students. This pilot program will begin with up to five schools in the greater metro area, running as an after school program.
Also, many schools in our province now observe what they are calling “an hour of code”, which is an hour-long activity that is planned at schools during science and technology week to help promote the basics of coding. Anyone interested can check out their website at: www.hourofcode.com for more information.