For a while now, we’ve all been told that coding is the one crucial skill that the kids of today are going to need for the jobs of tomorrow. Governments are scrambling to integrate it into their digital technologies curriculums, and it’s almost safe to say that this will be a mandatory part of schooling everywhere around the globe by 2020.
However, Australian teen entrepreneur Taj Pabari made headlines earlier this year by questioning whether coding really is “a skill of the future”, claiming that in the near future, computers will do all the coding themselves thanks to technologies such as Microsoft’s Deep Coder research program. Furthermore, he also pointed out that it doesn’t make much economic sense to teach every child to code, anyway – this would just drive down the salary for computer programming occupations.
For some quick background, Pabari is the founder of Fiftysix Creations, Australia’s largest provider of entrepreneurship workshops for schools. His outstanding work in educating over 40,000 children around the country in business and soft skills has seen him featured on the likes of Sunrise, 60 Minutes, the Today Show, and more.
His arguments are, of course, somewhat true: Microsoft’s AI can certainly write its own code, but this is limited to just a few lines at present. It’s going to be a few decades, at least, until it’s likely for this technology to become mainstream and a real threat to coders. Oh, and unfortunately, this machine didn’t actually code itself either. That part did, and always will, require humans.
It’s also true that if every person graduating from high school after 2030 becomes a software engineer or computer programmer, then we’ll have a massive economic issue on our hands. Not only will there be an over-supply of programmers, significantly driving down their salaries, but there will be no-one left to run the rest of our complex economy. The App Store doesn’t yet have an app to replace our farmers, nor does Facebook have a button that can manage our whole businesses for us.
So if computers are going to eventually be able to do all the coding themselves, even if this is quite a while off, and it makes no sense for every student to become a software developer when they leave school, then why exactly are we all racing to force coding down the throats of this generation?
I think that it’s almost unreasonable to suggest that just because we’re teaching every student to code, every student will leave school to become a software developer. And nor will that ever change. We teach maths to every student in the country all the way up to year 10 – when students leave school, do they all become actuaries, accountants, and maths teachers? Science is another subject that runs throughout school – do all of our students leave to become marine biologists?
Coding is becoming a part of our curriculum, and the real reason why we should teach our children to code isn’t that we want to force them into a profession within the realms of computer science, but for the same reason that we continue to teach them subjects like English, maths, science, and history. All of these subjects help them to investigate and understand the world around them, regardless of the career paths that they eventually choose to pursue.
Although these subjects are very different in terms of their content, the way that they are taught, and their usefulness – this is the big point Pabari questions with coding – they are all incredibly relevant to the lives we lead in the 21st century. English, of course, outlines the way in which we interact and express ourselves with others. Is every student going to need to know what an oxymoron is? No. But complex language techniques aren’t what the subject is really about, the one thing people always seem to forget when they start attacking English; it’s all about predicting, interpreting, questioning and comprehending. And not every student is going to pursue a career as a language scientist or an author, yet this subject is considered to be one of the most critical taught in schools.
Coding is very much the same. Like with any other subject, only a very small amount of students will make use of the higher-level and more difficult aspects of a mandatory computer coding course. And that’s okay. What is important is the skills that this subject will engage. We already know that coding is great for the development of critical thinking skills, problem-solving, computation (that’s maths, not running apps in your brain), and creativity.
Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly relevant to teach coding to our children as we are living in an increasingly technological society. The apps, devices, and machines that we interact with each day are all powered by coding and were all developed by someone who knew how to code. It should be comforting to think that we are preparing a future generation against the mindless consumption of technology and apps, as we give them the skills to at least understand on a basic level how these things work.
We have already seen how technology and social media have empowered thousands already to express themselves, explore the world and become a voice for change throughout the global communities. Coding becoming a part of the curriculum means that we are giving the leaders, thinkers, dreamers, and creators of tomorrow the tools that they will need to change the world.
So Microsoft’s Deep Coder may eventually do most of the coding for us. But there will certainly always be teams operating this technology, designing the apps that it will create and furthering the capability of this technology. All of these people will have to make use of coding at some level in order to do their jobs. And for the rest of us left doing other jobs, most of which probably haven’t been invented yet, we’ll be able to look at the apps and games on our phones and know a little about how they were made. Coding isn’t dead. It’s just really exciting.