As technology advances, the world that children and young people who are currently in the education system will one day have to find jobs in is constantly changing, but how are schools preparing them to use technologies that don’t exist yet?
Cathy Davidson, author of Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century, says that 65 per cent of children may end up doing work that doesn’t yet exist. It’s due to statistics like this that governments worldwide are introducing various initiatives and laws to make sure that the education system is equipping children with the kind of skills that they will need to succeed in these unknown jobs.
In 2014, the UK government introduced compulsory coding lessons for all children (from as young as five) as a way of bridging the skills gap between the number of technology jobs and the people qualified to fill them.
“ICT used to focus purely on computer literacy – teaching pupils, over and over again, how to word-process, how to work a spreadsheet, how to use programmes already creaking into obsolescence about as much use as teaching children to send a telex or travel in a zeppelin,” Michael Gove, former education secretary, outlined the political rationale for the changes in a January 2014 speech. “Our new curriculum teaches children computer science, information technology and digital literacy: teaching them how to code, and how to create their own programs; not just how to work a computer, but how a computer works and how to make it work for you.”
This, obviously, is a brilliant step forward for any young people wanting to pursue a career in STEM subjects. But what about students with other aspirations? Will these new computing lessons be a waste of their time?
Arguably, not. Campaigners say that learning programming skills benefits children in other ways too, they compare it to learning a musical instrument or foreign language.
“If you teach computing and do it right, you can help children develop their learning in literacy and numeracy,” Bill Mitchell, director of education at BCS, told the Guardian. “To me, the basic idea of computer is you have to get a computer to solve a problem: you have to come up with an algorithm, a set of instructions. If you can do that, it’s a hugely valuable skill whenever you’re working as a team for any kind of project.
“You have to try to imagine how this computer is going to do something for you. There are lots of transferable skills.”
The US government last year passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which rejects the overuse of standardised testing to ensure that the American education system will prepare children to graduate from high school ready for college and careers. Taking an opposite approach to the UK government, which has made cuts to music education, the ESSA makes provision for federal funding to be used to increase access to music education for all students – especially the most vulnerable.
“As a long time educator, I've witnessed first-hand the value arts education has in developing the whole child,” Katherine Damkohler, executive director of Education Through Music, wrote in the Huffington Post. “A well-rounded school curriculum emphasising the arts and music education is essential to teaching transferable skills like complex reasoning, problem-solving, analytical and critical thinking skills, essential in the workplace.
“Music, in particular, is a powerful motivator in education because it actively engages students in the classroom and teaches discipline, focus, persistence and risk taking. Research shows learning music increases student's reading, writing, mathematical and spatial reasoning skills. Music allows students to express themselves in a new and unexpected ways by tapping their creative and innovative side. Simply put, children learn better when music is part of their school curriculum.”
But how will having these transferable skills that American and British children are expected to develop in different ways help them once they reach the workplace of the future?
With so much unknown about how the workplace will look in 10, 15, 20 years, it’s hard to know exactly what to teach children in preparation. But, if we teach them these key skills – skills that will aid them across many industries, including those that don’t even exist yet – we give them the best chance at being prepared for a world with technological advancements that we can’t even imagine.
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