Imagine training for years – decades, even – for your dream job. You choose all the right subjects, scrimp and scrape to put yourself through college. Countless hours of study, stress, working dull, low-paying jobs to get a foot on the ladder. Little by little you climb towards your goal. Once you’ve made it, all your efforts will have been worthwhile. And when you get there, taking hold of the final rung, you find it was all for nothing. Your dream job doesn’t even exist anymore. You’ve been replaced by a computer program.
A recent report by The Foundation of Young Australians (FYA) found nearly 60% of Australian students are studying for jobs that may no longer exist in a decade. Three economic trends – globalisation, automation and collaboration – are identified as having an immense potential impact on the job market, but the true force behind all of these is technology.
Technology – via computerisation and robotics – is what will replace bookkeepers and cashiers, farmers and secretaries; technology is what facilitates the outsourcing of jobs across the globe; and technology is what gives us the opportunity to work for several employers concurrently, to work from home and to set our own hours.
There’s no fighting technological advancement. So how do we ensure future generations aren’t made redundant by Wall-e? CEO of FYA Jan Owen says, “We need to provide our young people with a different set of skills – to allow them to navigate their way through a diverse employment journey that will include around five career changes and an average of 17 different jobs.” These skills include communication, financial literacy, project management, creativity and, crucially, digital literacy.
“Our report found more than 90% of the current workforce will need digital skills to communicate and find information to perform their roles in the next 2-5 years,” says Owen. “At least 50% will need advanced skills to configure and build systems.”
Over the last few years, the idea of teaching digital literacy to younger children has been gaining steam. Since 2012, Estonian schools have been teaching children as young as seven how to code. Coding is a compulsory subject in primary schools in the UK and Singapore has plans to launch a similar initiative. The Australian government has been circling the idea, with the current Opposition promising to include coding on the national curriculum if elected.
The aim of the teaching coding to primary school students isn’t to churn out a new generation of coders, but to provide them with a broad digital skill set that can be applied to a variety of fields. Understanding not just how to use computers, but how to build and instruct them, will be an essential skill in a future where digital information is the most valuable currency.
Learning to code has applications beyond the field as well: an education in coding is also an education in logic, creativity, literacy, numeracy and algorithmic (or computational) thinking. Knowing the underlying principles of one programming language makes it much easier to become fluent in others. And the value of such knowledge is immeasurable: it means current generations of school kids will go out into the world armed with the skills they need to thrive.
“If we equip our young people with the right set of skills, a thirst for innovation, and the ability to collaborate,” says Owen, “we can ensure they take our nation’s economy in a positive direction and build the kind of lives and society for themselves we would all hope for our children.”
Nick Nedeljkovic is a freelance writer and blogger from Sydney. With a love of learning and more degrees than he can afford, he’s a passionate advocate for education in all its forms.