By: Ghada Khalifa, Microsoft Philanthropies Director for Middle East and Africa
Five million jobs will be lost to automation by 2020 as our world becomes more reliant on technology. This is according to the World Economic Forum, which also estimated that by 2020 the Fourth Industrial Revolution will have brought us advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence, machine learning, biotechnology and genomics.
It’s evident that learning new and more relevant skills is vital if we are to survive and thrive in a world increasingly dominated by technology.
One skill necessary for the future world of work is coding. Futurist Marc Goodman once wrote, “If you control the code, you control the world.” More realistic is the quote by journalist and coder, Paul Ford, who said, “If coders don’t run the world, they run the things that run the world.”
With the world experiencing seismic shifts in the way we live and work, there is no doubt that coding is the new literacy. Companies across all sectors are now including it as a prerequisite for job applicants, from finance to healthcare and even manufacturing. This trend is set to continue well into the future.
It’s evident that young people need to become creators, not just consumers of digital technology. While not every child who learns to write will become a renowned author, nor will learning algebra turn a child into a mathematician, both are treated as foundational skills that all children should learn. Many educators agree that learning to code should be the same.
Will Artificial Intelligence (AI) render learning how to code obsolete?
With the world constantly changing and the pace of change taking place so rapidly, some experts fear that machine learning and AI will even make the skill of coding irrelevant. This is because machine learning uses complicated algorithms, which give computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed.
However, despite fears about the effect of AI on coding skills and the job market, coding itself is not in danger of being automated out of existence. Of course coding jobs will be different in 10 years with new languages and tools constantly emerging, just as coding has evolved since its inception. However, in the future we will most likely come to appreciate both the power of human-generated code, as well as the ability of algorithms to adjust it.
Humans will learn from AI and vice versa, and the skills inherent in learning to write basic code will be just as relevant in the future as they are now.
Why every child in the Middle East should learn to code
Some may argue that the Middle East education system has more basic issues to prioritise in order to improve education standards throughout the region, and in many cases they do. However, there are several reasons why it’s important to teach children coding from an early age that are particularly applicable to the development of the Middle East region.
- Coding teaches both critical and computational thinking, which instil a sense of problem-solving in children. This skill is vital for the Middle East to develop solutions that address the region’s unique challenges.
- Digital capabilities and economic growth go together - According to a recent study by Accenture, more than a fifth of global GDP today can be attributed to some form of digital skills, capital, goods or services. Digital technology could power $2 trillion of the global economic output by 2020, clearly demonstrating its role in igniting overall economic growth.
- Learning to code instils a sense of empowerment, agency and independence in children from an early age, which is important for fostering a culture of innovation and
- Coding provides employment opportunities, helping contribute to the eradication of high rates of unemployment in the region.
Building a pipeline of tomorrow’s talent
Microsoft believes that every young person should have the opportunity to learn computer science, giving them the problem-solving and critical thinking skills required in our tech-fuelled world. With our rising digital economy and the nonstop pace of technological change, we have an imperative to prepare young people to pursue careers that are in demand.
In order to encourage more children to develop an interest in coding, Microsoft partnered with code.org to promote the worldwide Hour of Code campaign, which took place last year. The campaign aimed to encourage millions of students around the world to try one hour of coding during the annual Computer Science Education Week by trying an hour-long online coding tutorial developed by the team behind the popular game Minecraft.
The future is now
There was a time when coding was only done by software programmers, but as the world becomes more integrated with digital technology, the opportunity to exploit the power of code is available to people in almost any career from sport and engineering to fashion and art.