All around the world, leaders from government and industry debate the “future of work.” We have all seen predictions of a massive shift in the workforce needs of the future. The latest prediction from McKinsey Global Institute is that approximately 50% of existing work activities can be displaced, replaced or changed by automation of some form, whether caused by traditional software, robotics, or new artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms.
Despite near unanimous agreement about the wave of change, the world is not reacting fast enough to update our system of education. A student that begins primary school today will graduate from university in the mid-2030s, and their career will last through 2060 or beyond. While we can’t predict exactly what our workforce needs will be in in the middle of the century, we can be absolutely certain that the workforce needs are changing and will continue to change.
Any discussion of the future of work should go hand-in-hand with a discussion of the future of curriculum. Yet, when you visit most schools in 2018, you will see teachers teaching the exact same subject matter as they taught in 1918: reading, writing, math, science, history, and foreign languages. Debates about the future of education center on changing how we teach, to embrace technology in the classroom, but there is nearly zero debate about changing what we teach.
Surely some of the topics we teach today will no longer be relevant in the 2030s: handwriting is increasingly obsolete, complex arithmetic is no longer done by hand, and the Internet has replaced our need for memorizing many basic facts. Meanwhile, digital skills, problem solving, creativity, and collaboration are in greater need each year, yet not taught in our schools. Even when schools teach digital skills, they teach how to use technology — how to create a document or a presentation — rather than how to create technology.
To prepare all students for the creative, collaborative, and digital problem solving skills of the future, schools must teach computer science as part of the curriculum. This isn’t just about coding. Computer science is about coding, computational thinking, interface design, data analysis, machine learning, cybersecurity, networking, and robotics. And learning computer science exercises creativity, problem solving, and collaboration. These skills aren’t just important for technical careers in the developed world. They are valuable for every career in all economies.
Computer science shouldn’t be relegated to after-school clubs, robotics contests, or hackathons. It should be taught as part of the primary and secondary school day. Education leaders should discuss removing aspects of the curriculum of 1918 to make room for the curriculum of 2018.
To prepare for the 2030s and beyond, emerging economies have an opportunity to leapfrog, to prepare their youth for the careers of the future. Our schools should teach the curriculum of the future, not just the curriculum of the past. Already, many countries have begun embracing computer science as part of their national curriculum. In the United States, 44 states have changed policies to recognize computer science as part of the academic core. Beyond the U.S., more than 25 countries have announced plans to expand school-day access to computer science: not only the U.K., Australia, Japan, or South Korea, but also Argentina, Ecuador, Italy, Malaysia, Sweden, and Thailand.
Teaching computer science in schools may sound intimidating, but it is an idea that generates hope. It inspires teachers and engages students. And even though the majority of the world’s teachers don’t have experience in computer science, and many of the world’s schools lack connected computers, these are problems we can and should solve. They are problems that countries like Brazil, Chile, and Nigeria are establishing plans to solve, and the rest of the world should follow suit.
The future of work may be uncertain. But one thing is absolutely certain: computer science will be in greater demand than ever before, and every student in every school should have an opportunity to learn it as part of their school curriculum.