by Jasmin B. Cowin, Ed.D.
We are the cusp of a new age. The age of technology. Just as the steam engine changed the way mankind moved beyond manual labor and gave rise to the industrial revolution, so computers are changing our world at an exponential pace. This spring, I read Alec Ross’ book “The Industries of the Future” where he discussed what changes are coming in the next ten years, highlighting the best opportunities for progress and explaining why countries thrive or fail.
Think about this: Could you have imagined a self-driving car twenty years ago? Was the profession of a blogger or social network communication specialist born yet? How many people had a cell phone? What functions could that phone perform? How about genome mapping? For our children to be part of this age of technology and find meaningful employment they must be conversant, fluent and comfortable in computer science. Computer science, invention, and integration of Artificial Intelligences will be the driving factors for tomorrow’s industries. I am the best example of the need to stay current. I took a look at where the teaching profession is moving and decided to take a year out of my life to learn as much as a can about computer science, and its integration into my profession. S/he who stands still – falls behind!
In ‘The Industries of the Future’ Ross examines the “specific fields that will most shape our economic future, including robotics, cyber security, the commercialization of genomics, the next step for big data, and the coming impact of digital technology on money and markets.” From my teacher’s perspective working for a University Pathway Program, I match students with career paths. The stagnancy and inability to think outside the box are worrisome. I see students looking backward to professions which will not exist in their current form fifteen years from now. While students are adept at using social media, gaming and creating blogs most of them do not have any insight into the “How’s” of the interior lives of computers. Rarely does a student ask: “How does this work?” Even rarer the question: “How do I create my own game, program, etc.?” Students unschooled in computer science are end-users, not innovators. Content such as Computer Science can not be relegated to parental realms, as parents often know even less about the “How?” than their children. For competitiveness in a global environment, computer science is the stepping stone to better careers and lifetime earning opportunities. We, as a country, must provide opportunities to this generation to succeed and pursue their American Dream.
An impossible task? Not at all. Last semester I taught a cohort of business students at EF – Education First analyzing the minuscule country of Estonia, initially famous for its mass choir performances. After the collapse of the Soviet block, Estonia became a free marketplace. The new president and his cabinet were technocrats with ideals. This speck of a country, without natural resources, required all children starting in elementary school to learn to code. This long-term approach to educating the complete student body in computer science and code bore fruit within ten years. Today, Estonia is at the forefront of innovative ideas such as e-residences, innovative computer programming, and e-banking. Men and women are equally represented in all computer fields.
I ask you this: What hinders us to provide such opportunities for our children? Are we so narrow-minded and unable to embrace change? Estonia, a small country at the brink of bankruptcy pulled off a feat like this, investing in the future of their children! Remember – 65% of the jobs of the future are not invented yet! Let’s give our children a chance to be part of this new age of technology by embracing Computer Science as a liberal art, and a core competency necessary for a successful future of not only our children but also of our country.