The International Labour Organization estimates that 73.4 million people aged 15-24 do not have a job (43% of global youth), and three times as many young people are underemployed. At the same time, 40% of employers report skills shortage for entry level vacancies, according to McKinsey (Social Initiative 2015). Hence, skill gaps have become an issue to both employers and the unemployed. This trend is exacerbated by technological advancements which are rapidly replacing manual jobs, leaving millions of young people unprepared to participate in the 21st-century knowledge economy.
Three aspects of the skills gap problem need to be addressed in order to find a sustainable solution: urgency, proficiency in technology, and job market readiness. The 2016 World Development Report finds that returns to education are particularly high for ICT-intensive occupations. The wage premium for working in ICT-intensive occupations is around 5% for both men and women in developing countries (WDR 2016). This suggests a tremendous potential of technology education for reducing poverty and boosting prosperity in the developing world.
In this season of making resolutions (and hopefully sticking to a few of them) we invite you to join us for a year long skills transfer discussion/blog series on technology aided gut (TAG) checks.
TAG is a term we have coined to describe the use of simple web programming tools and techniques to do basic gut checks on data - big and small. TAG does not replace data science, rather it complements it. TAG empowers you - the development professionals - who rely on the story the data tells to accomplish your tasks. It does so by giving a you good enough idea about the data before you delve into the sophisticated data science methods (here is a good look at the last 50 years of data science from Stanford’s Dr. Donoho). In many cases it actually allows you to add your own insights to the story the data tells. As the series progresses we will talk a lot about TAGs. For the eager-minded here’s an example of TAG usage in US politics.
In this series, we will use a just-in-time learning strategy to help you learn to do TAG checks on your data. Just in time learning, as the name implies, is all about providing only the right amount of information at the right time. It is the minimum, essential information needed to help a learner progress to the next step. If the learner has a specific learning objective, just-in-time learning can be extremely efficient and highly effective. A good example of just in time information is the voice command a GPS gives you right before a turn. Contrast this with the use of maps before the days of GPS. You were given way more information than you needed and in a format that is not conducive to processing when you are driving.
This week over a million students around the world will participate in the Hour of Code, an annual event designed to excite interest in computer science and computer programming. This reflects a growing interest in some quarters to promote efforts within schools to broaden awareness of what it means to 'code' (i.e. write a set of step-by-step directions that instruct computers to do something) and to help students develop related skills.
Perhaps not surprisingly, many leading technology firms have been keen proponents and supporters of this educational coding 'movement'. While such support has been particularly pronounced and high profile in the United States -- many of the prominent organizations have close ties to and/or roots in Silicon Valley -- this is long past being only a North American phenomenon.
Citing the increasing importance of coding skills, and IT jobs more broadly, to their national economies, policymakers in many countries are considering national coding education efforts of various sorts – and a few education systems have already begun to implement related initiatives. From Trinidad and Tobago to Indonesia to Nigeria, 'coding' is being introduced into classrooms and curricula around the world in various ways, both informally and (increasingly) formally as well, for better and/or for worse (depending on your perspective, and the particular nature or rigor of the specific initiatives).
This phenomenon is notably observable across Europe, where, rather famously (at least within the communities of people who care about and pay attention to such things), Estonia and the United Kingdom have introduced coding curricula for students beginning in early primary grades (the UK has actually made this mandatory – as has Slovakia, for what that’s worth). Each year in October, CodeWeek.eu serves as a continental focal point and showcase for many of these sorts of national and regional efforts. A recent report from the European Schoolnet (Computer programming and coding - Priorities, school curricula and initiatives across Europe [pdf]) features results from a survey of 21 ministries of education about their current coding-related initiatives and plans for the future. To date, 16 European countries have integrated coding into their curricula at some level (with Finland and the Flemish part of Belgium expected to do so in 2016). While the focus of most of these countries has been at the upper secondary level, coding is increasingly to be found (or soon to be found) at the primary level at a majority of these countries as well. The report highlights a number of important related pedagogical questions that are emerging out of European experience:
- How to design effectively the learning processes and outcomes involving coding?
- Which concrete activities (and programming languages) are most appropriate for different students, according to their age, interests and capacities?
- What are the particular merits (and limits) of adopting a cross-curricular approach to teaching coding or a discrete computer science subject?
- How to refine assessment, in particular where coding is integrated in a cross-curricular approach in other subjects?
It also highlights many challenges related to training and support for teachers. While many of the startups developing the tools and services that make the coding movement possible are in the United States, Europe is in many the ways at the center of actual related activities in schools.
“Coding”, it is said by some, is the “new literacy”. The ability to write and understand computer code, some contend, is increasingly fundamental to understanding how to navigate one’s way through, to say nothing of succeeding in, a modern society where more and more of our lives are enabled and/or constrained by the actions of devices and information systems that run on computer code.
I expect that few people would argue that efforts to expose some students to ‘coding’ (and to develop some related skills) is a bad thing. That said:
Should *all* students learn how to code?
All? That’s ridiculous! some would answer.
All? Absolutely! others respond.
I’ve sat in on a number of related discussions in ministries of education and at education policy forums around the world. At times, it can seem like members of these two groups are not only on different pages, but reading from totally different books. Those people just don’t get it, I’ve have heard representatives from both groups lament about each other after the conclusion of such meetings.
For what it’s worth, and in case it might be of any interest to others, here are, in no particular order, some of the most common arguments I hear made both in support of, and against, educational coding initiatives:
The big 5 multilateral development banks(MDBs) (World Bank Group, African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and Inter-American Development Bank) collectively provided close to $100 billion in concessional and non-concessional lending in 2012 or FY13. Of late, their size, traditionally an advantage, has become something of a disadvantage. The MDBs are facing intense challenges in at least three major ways. One - criticism from academics, developing nations and others that foreign aid is detrimental for a country’s growth. Two - technology has diluted the monopolistic advantages they had (knowledge, networks, access to funding) and is leading to new models of development. As echoed by World Bank President Jim Kim, there is a "need for alignment" for development institutions in "a rapidly changing world." Three - more and more countries are shifting from demanding traditional loans to demanding knowledge and knowledge products, and development institutions are only now starting to respond to this challenge.
Let me tell you when magic happens. It transpires when few brilliant minds, optimistic hearts, energetic young people, and a fantastic facilitator meet. The Ideashop: Coding your way to opportunity organized by the World Bank in partnership with the Bangladesh StartUp Cup on June 14th at its Dhaka Office showed us glimpses of such magic. And it is only the beginning of our journey together.
Confident that the solutions to many of the challenges facing youth can come from within themselves, the World Bank and Microsoft has launched a regional grant competition in four South Asia countries – Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka. The regional grant competition titled Coding your way to opportunity invites innovative ideas from youth led organizations and NGOs that will expand coding knowledge amongst youth and help them secure gainful employment.