Why do we send our children to school? To get them out of the house, out of the way? No – because we entrust the educational system to teach them how to become responsible, productive citizens, and equip them with the skills and knowledge needed for adulthood. So, why the lack of tech in education? Why is coding and computer science not mandatory? Why are we not preparing the adults of tomorrow – the workers, the business leaders, the professionals – to thrive in what will be a technology-dominated world today?
Pupils now entering first grade will graduate from university around 2035. Then they’ll get a job, and their career will span through to the late 2060s and possibly beyond. What will the job market look like by that point? What will the workforce’s needs be? Though we can’t make exact predictions about the future, we do know that needs are already changing, and will continue to change as technology continues to advance and permeate through every industry. When we fail to prepare, we should prepare to fail – and if there continues to be a lack of tech in education, then we are preparing our children to fail in the future.
And the future is closer than you might think. Artificial intelligence (AI), automation, robotics, data science, machine learning – these are no longer the speculative technologies of some futuristic science fiction world, but in increasing deployment and demand today. According to PwC, by 2020 – next year – an astonishing 77% of all jobs will require some degree of technological skills, and there will be one million more computing jobs than applicants who can fill them. And while the need for workers trained in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills is growing, there is a shortage of graduates who have them. As such, 79% of CEOs in the US are already concerned that the growing skills shortage will impair their company’s growth, which will thusly result in fewer jobs being created right across the board.
The need for more tech in education will only increase as demand for technology skills grows over the coming years. Last year, a report from McKinsey – Skill Shift: Automation and the Future of the Workforce – found that the rise of automation will accelerate the shift in required workforce skills we have seen over the past 15 years. Notably, the demand for technological skills, the smallest category today, will rise by 55% by 2030 – a surge affecting demand for basic digital skills as well as advanced skills such as computer programming.
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And yet, teaching tech in education still isn’t mandatory. In most schools, teachers teach the exact same subject matter as they did 100 years ago – reading, writing, math, history, foreign languages, and basic science. Critical thinking, problem-solving and digital skills are in higher demand every year across the job market, but still aren’t being taught as a core part of the curriculum. True, there is increasingly more physical tech in education – computers, tablets, internet access, etc. But the focus of what’s being taught is how to use the technology – touch-typing, creating documents and presentations – not how to create it. PwC’s research found that well over half (60%) of tech in education is used passively (e.g. watching videos and reading websites), while less than one third (32%) is used actively (e.g. for coding, producing videos, and performing data analysis).
Today’s teachers see the value in their students learning higher-level technology skills – such as computer programming languages, data analytics, robotics and website design and creation – yet aren’t confident in their abilities to teach these classes. According to PwC’s research of more than 2,000 educators, only 10% felt confident incorporating higher-level technology into student learning – data that holds true across grade level, school affluence, and teacher experience level.
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In any case, the fact is that even if today’s educators had the confidence and the knowledge to teach their students the vital technology skills of tomorrow, technology-related courses simply aren’t being offered to many high school students. 80% of the teachers surveyed reported that their schools did not offer courses in data analytics, 64% in app design/creation, 46% in computer programming languages, 42% in robotics, and 41% in web design/creation.
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Teachers Need Support and Training
What’s to be done? Clearly, we are faced with the challenge of redefining the educational system in order to ensure our children keep up with the evolving needs of the future job market. Today’s first-graders will require creative, collaborative and digital problem-solving skills if they are to find employment when they leave education and succeed in their careers. But that means supporting and educating teachers first.
64% of the teachers surveyed for PwC’s study said that they feel more emphasis should be placed on teaching tech in education – but they need more support and training from their districts. 79% said they would like to receive more professional development for technology-related subjects, with 81% saying they want more curriculum plans and course materials, and another 81% saying they want more funds to make it happen.
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Not every child needs to learn how to become a software engineer, but introducing more tech in education through programming classes and other higher technology-related subjects will help sharpen their practical and logical thinking skills, and how to create their own solutions. Indeed, computer science isn’t just about coding, it’s about creativity, problem-solving, ethics and collaboration – skills which will be just as important for technical careers as they will be for any other.
Schools need to be preparing our children for the future, not the past. And even though the vast majority of today’s teachers currently lack the confidence and the experience to teach computer science, they recognize how crucial it is and are eager to learn – so it’s a problem that we can and should solve. The future of work will place greater demand on technology skills than ever before, and every student in every school should have the opportunity to acquire them as part of the curriculum. As one US teacher told PwC: “Students who are given dedicated time to learn technology-based subjects will be more prepared for possible jobs and view technology more like a tool and less like a toy.”