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You may have heard it said that reading, writing, and arithmetic are the branches of the learning tree. While some may think that I’m quoting a song from the Jackson 5, I’m actually referring to a long-held philosophy in traditional education. These three “R’s” have been well-established as necessary skills for young learners to succeed in the modern world.
Even today’s college admissions process revolves around performance in these three areas. The SAT, which was designed to determine whether or not a high school grad is prepared for university, is split up into these categories. Without a doubt, literacy and mathematical skills are an absolute requirement to prosper in today’s world. But, with our entry into the digital age, we also need to evaluate whether or not a fourth addition needs to be made to this classic curriculum: coding.
Proponents of coding education argue that knowing how to read and write in a programming language will soon become just as important as literacy in human languages—and with good reason. With technology playing an increasing role in our daily lives and work, it’s hard to deny this claim. Research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found in 2012 that more than half of jobs required some sort of technology skills and that in 2020, this number will grow to 77 percent.
The current tech skills gap in our nation represents a great opportunity for those who know how to program. Learning to code can greatly improve a candidate’s chances of finding a new job or gaining promotion within their current organization. According to research from Octagon Talent Solutions, jobs that require coding skills pay $22,000 more per year, on average.
The “Learn to Code” movement of recent years has brought much-needed attention to the digital skills gap in our country and to the importance that programming will play in the workplace of the future.
In 2015, President Obama jumpstarted this movement by proposing the $100 million TechHire Initiative, which sought to train and connect Americans to a good job in technology and other in-demand fields. At the time of the announcement, 500,000 tech jobs were left open in the U.S.
“When companies have job openings they cannot fill, it costs them money,” said Obama at the National League of Cities’ annual conference. “If these jobs go unfilled, it’s a missed opportunity for the workers, but also your city, your country, your state, and our nation.”
To close the skills gap, President Obama argued that teaching Americans coding skills was a key factor. Obama also looked to coding bootcamps and online coding schools to fill in this apparent gap in the private sector.
“It turns out it doesn’t matter where you learned code, it just matters how good you are at writing code,” Obama said. “If you can do the job, you should get the job.”
However, as we concluded in our previous article, on-the-job training and coding bootcamps are simply “too little, too late” when it comes to preparing the next generation of learners. Instead, STEAM fundamentals like coding need to be promoted far earlier in the educational journey.
Some state governors heard Obama’s call and took it even further by promoting coding and computer science in early childhood education. Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, for example, has made coding education one of his top priorities in office. In fact, under Governor Hutchinson’s support, the state of Arkansas passed a bill requiring that all public and charter high schools offer computer science courses to their students. And, while educators and schools catch up to this new standard, the state of Arkansas has committed to delivering the curriculum through Virtual Arkansas, their online portal.
Critics of the “Learn to Code” movement have been equally vocal, claiming that coding evangelists place far too much importance on programming skills alone. And, instead of teaching the fundamentals behind the code, critics say, “Learn to Code” proponents give students unrealistic expectations for the workplace. In this sense, we would have to agree. After all, coding is a single skillset, which cannot guarantee a candidate a job, nor solve the tech skill gap in today’s economy on its own.
For this reason, Woz U is not a coding bootcamp, but rather an EaaS provider that focuses on the disciplines of Data Science, Cyber Security, and Software Development. Through our “K-to-Career” pipeline, we focus on inspiring students to pursue a career in tech and teaching STEAM fundamentals as early as Kindergarten.
As with any argument, extremists on both sides of the table have either over-emphasized or diminished the role that learning to code plays in the future of careers. Coding may not be the only skill that young learners need to succeed, but it’s definitely a determining factor.