The youth of the world remain among the most at risk of unemployment. As global labour needs shift faster than ever, educational institutions are finding themselves hard-pressed to provide an education that prepares the students of today for the jobs of tomorrow. With 84% of students in the world's high-income countries progressing to higher education, it's clear that the solutions have to come from outside the traditional school system.
As industry labour needs are quickly shifting, so too are the practical skills required to attain today's increasingly technical jobs. Technology, once an industry of its own, is now the backbone of nearly every industry in the world. As famed venture capitalist Marc Andreessen has said, "Software is eating the world." Companies like the New York Times find themselves supplanted by more technology-driven companies like Buzzfeed, while industries such as agriculture find their traditional business models upended by smaller, more tech-savvy competitors.
Breaking the code
All of this translatesinto a need for a new education paradigm -- one that moves faster than traditional institutions and teaches the skills required for today's jobs. Fortunately, there's a fundamental literacy that we can teach our children, one that will not only give them the skills of today, but prepare them with the framework for learning and adapting to the skills of tomorrow: programming.
Programming has risen to prominence over the past several years, going from a niche offering with limited public availability to, in some cases, a government mandate. This year, the United Kingdom became the first country to require that "computing" curriculum be taught to every student in the country. The UK's belief in programming is not a shortsighted adaptation to the fashion of the times but is instead a prudent investment in the future. Michael Gove, the country's Secretary of Education, summarized this dynamic as he introduced the program to reshape UK school requirements:
"Although individual technologies change day by day, they are underpinned by foundational concepts and principles that have endured for decades. Long after today's pupils leave school and enter the workplace...the principles learnt in Computer Science will still hold true."
Programming isn't key because it teaches modern skills, it's important because it teaches computational thinking, a mindset that helps enhance critical thinking and prepare the children of today for learning and iterating their skills in the future.
Programming isn't just for K-12 school children, however. The need for programmers across the world has never been so acute. In the United States alone, it's estimated that more than 1 million programming jobs will go unfilled by the year 2021.
The new vocational
Education institutions have struggled to keep up, despite demand for those programs that are offering coding instruction to wide audiences -- such as Harvard's CS50, enrollment for which has jumped to 800 students per semester in recent years. Alternative education systems have popped up as a consequence. Some, in the physical education space (Dev Bootcamp and Galvanize are examples) train people to become employable in three months with intensive, hands-on workshops meant to replace the vocational schools of yore. Others, by using the web, have created scalable ways to educate millions of people. My company, Codecademy, is one such example, and others abound.
The youth of today are in a precarious position: with unemployment at a high, many are scrambling to learn new skills to prepare for the future. Most, unfortunately, will learn skills likely to become outmoded in a few years. Luckily, technology will generate an ever-increasing range of opportunities for these students to learn skills inexpensively and to apply them as they continue grow, learning more throughout their careers, regardless of their chosen industry. I'm excited for a future where today's students can learn the skills of tomorrow and, if they so choose, code it as well.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The World Economic Forum to mark the Forum's Annual Meeting 2015 (in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, Jan. 21-24). The Forum's Technology Pioneers program recognizes young companies from around the world that are involved in the design, development and deployment of new technologies that have the potential of significantly impacting the way business and society operate. Read all the posts in the series here.