"By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist"
- The Future of Jobs. (2018). [ebook] The World Economic Forum, p.3. Available at: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs.pdf [Accessed 6 Jan. 2018].
The notion that the future is unpredictable and that it will be vastly different to today, in terms of general day-to-day life, work, education, etc. is not a new one. Enter preparing students jobs that don't exist into Google as I did today, and you will receive more than one hundred million results. I wrote yesterday that the way we consider the alleged twenty-first century skills needs to be reframed and that the recent drive for them to be included explicitly in curriculum, points to a need for a genuine national conversation about the purpose of education.
This near-fetish of generic skills extends into other areas, and in the last few years, has seen coding pushed to the top of the agenda. In 2015, a statement from then-opposition leader Bill Shorten (available here) wrote that
Coding is the literacy of the 21st Century, and every young Australian should be able to read and write the global language of the digital age.
The statement also included the announcement that, if elected, a Shorten-led Labor government would "...ensure that computer coding is taught in every primary and secondary school in Australia so the next generation have the skills they need for the jobs of the new economy." There was at the time, a burgeoning industry of companies offering coding courses for students, at a cost of course; as well as lunch or after school coding clubs springing up across the country.
There is an interesting issue, however, within this focus. We are told on the one hand that we do not know what the jobs of tomorrow will be nor the skills needed for those jobs, yet on the other hand we are forcing a very specific skill, coding, into the curriculum, which has limited application; only so many people will go into or be interested in entering occupations which will require coding.
Why then, the focus on coding, the elevation of it to an imperative?
"We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist . . . using technologies that haven’t yet been invented . . . in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet."
- Richard Riley, Secretary of Education under Clinton. Quoted in What is 21st Century Learning p.3. Retrieved from http://21stcenturyskillsbook.com/wp-content/uploads/21stCS_excerpt.pdf on 6 January 2018
I acknowledge that coding is not the only thing on the agenda or in the curriculum that will have limited appeal. I can almost hear the uproar of what about The Arts? and that the same issue applies, that only so many people go into that area for an occupation after school, and while I am a huge believer in the benefits of The Arts (for example, read this article), I am hoping to provoke a debate and some critical thought about why there is such a strong push for coding.
This article from The Conversation acknowledges that coding languages change regularly, but posits that "...if taught properly, students can rapidly transfer the principles of one language to another." There is a challenge with implementing coding nationally in that, without proper support there will very quickly be a gap between schools as those who have teachers knowledgeable enough to run coding classes (whom are also willing to run them), those who can afford to bring in third-party commercial companies (many of whom use free websites such as code.org as the platform from which they teach), and those who have access to neither.
Resourcing and teacher self-efficacy and availability is not a new issue, the same one arises with, effectively, every subject area. I know of a Principal who has six subjects they are unable to find qualified teachers for and have heard second-hand that there is a dire national shortage of physics teachers in New Zealand, even in the major cities. This challenge is amplified when coding is mandated, which this February 2017 article writes was what occurred in Queensland, with parents unable to opt out their children.
Returning to the central point, however, when we are told that we do not know what kinds of jobs the future will bring, that many of today's jobs not exist in the future due to robots and automation, and that many of the jobs our children will have do not exist at the moment; why are we focusing on such narrow skill-sets as coding? All of the benefits that I hear for coding, understanding of algorithmic or computational thinking, creativity,critical thinking, analysis etc. are all able to be taught within the current curriculum areas.
I would love to hear an argument for coding that can cite something other than the above and justifies the significant investment in time and money that many schools are making.