CISC8100 Applied Practice in Context · Digital fluency · Mindlab · New Zealand · Programming

Week 27: Trend influencing education in New Zealand or internationally

The 2016 Horizon Report (Adams Becker, et.al, pp16-17) identified a trend influencing education internationally that is specifically relevant to my practice as a teacher of Digital Technology in New Zealand: Coding as a Literacy.

The report posits that computer science (CS) is one of the fastest growing industries across the world: a major (and growing) industry in New Zealand, in 2014 contributing over $30 billion to GDP, its projected growth is over 9% pa, with exports growing 14% pa. Code.org (US non-profit) calculated 1.4 million computing jobs internationally by 2020, but only 400,000 CS graduates to fill them. Many schools and now the NZ Ministry of Education are adjusting their curricula in an attempt to train a future workforce.
There will continue to be constrictions. Employers report job positions requiring programming or mobile development take twice as long to fill as traditional positions; meanwhile, educators perceive coding as a way to stimulate computational thinking, combining deep computer science knowledge, with creativity and problem-solving. The European Commission says learning code aides the acquisition of 21st century skills such as creativity and computational thinking, which are applicable to many jobs.

Like many ‘seismic’ changes, issues are identified that challenge our perception. In February Wired Magazine (Thompson, C., 2017) suggested ‘coding’ will become another ‘blue-collar’ manual job, suggesting that coding is “easy” and that everyone with the right attitude can do it.

I agree there are many ‘coding’ jobs that could be described as ‘blue-collar’, and on the surface it is true, anyone can be taught to put a few template statements together, but it does not mean they can code well or problem solve in ways that could be described as effective or efficient. Also, I contest the statement that banks look for anyone to “sling” trivial Javascript (if that were the case, I would not be internet banking with them). Of these jobs (web front-end, data processing, game artists or designers) they tend to be comparatively low-paid against other code jobs; and may in fact over time be automated out of existence by software (software-that-writes-software is close, although some estimate only an 8% likelihood for automation within 20 years.

I believe programming or coding (software development / engineering) requires other skills, requiring a highly creative and practical approach, with high-level abstracted thinking and decomposition breaking problems down into smaller problems and solving each one individually. Knowledge of code benefits many career areas, not just engineering: automating office tasks, or in scientific research helping to create new methods or tools.

Coding shortages have an impact with several of the country’s larger IT employers (i.e. Orion Health, and Xero) continuing to employ from overseas. It is in this market that the Ministry of Education are fast-tracked a new Curriculum realignment that places Digital Technology at the front of development, although the Principals’ Federation guardedly comment that only 4000 of the country’s 100,000 teachers currently have skills to put vision into practice.

A challenge for educators is to be honest with students and parents: good programmers need a high-level education and training, as the nature of the work involves high-level abstract thinking and problem solving that do not develop on their own. Should careers advisors and school Deans be encouraged to provide informed advice on the breadth of future opportunities in computer science / software development / engineering, rather than the emphasis on three sciences (who actually needs three sciences?) and two maths for the more academically literate students. I have had more than one student comment to me that they have had Dean’s recommend the traditional subject choices without mentioning tech or digital choices. On the other hand enrolling students simply because they like “playing computer games” is equally a concern.

References

Adams Becker, S., Freeman, A., Giesinger Hall, C., Cummins, M.,and Yuhnke, B. (2016). NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2016 K-12Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from http://cdn.nmc.org/media/2016-nmc-cosn-horizon-report-k12-EN.pdf

Artificial Intelligence Automation Economy [pdf] found at: Lee, K. (2016, December 20, 4:30 pm). Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy. whitehouse.gov. Retrieved from https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/20/artificial-intelligence-automation-and-economy

Thompson, C. (2017, February, 08,12:30 pm). Programming is the New Blue Colour Job. Wired.com | Business. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2017/02/programming-is-the-new-blue-collar-job/

Simonite, T. (2017, January 18). Google’s AI software is learning to make AI software. MIT Technology Review. Retrieved from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603381/ai-software-learns-to-make-ai-software/

Nassos Stylianou, N., Nurse, T., Fletcher, G., Fewster, A., Bangay, R., and Walton, J. (2015, September 11) Will a robot take your job? – BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-34066941

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