All over the globe, in countries such as Estonia, Israel, China, England, Australia and the United Arab Emirates, children start learning to code in elementary school. And yet, according to a recent study, across 37 U.S. states, only 4.7% of high school students in the United States were enrolled in computer science programs in 2021. As a disclosure, my company Tynker is one provider of coding edtech solutions.
Learning to code is being adopted much too slowly across the education system. This is scary because fewer elementary coders mean fewer STEM degree enrollments—resulting in an underskilled workforce to support our future digital economy.
What problems does this pose for business leaders?
The demand for workers with technical skills shows no sign of slowing—rapidly outpacing growth in traditional jobs. Jobs requiring technical expertise in areas including IT, cybersecurity, marketing research and other consulting services are expected to experience the third-largest employment increase over the years 2021–2031. In the next decade, more than half of all U.S. jobs will be impacted by automation, but job openings for software developers, data scientists, quality assurance analysts and testers are projected to grow 25% from 2020 to 2030.
Business leaders must recognize the importance of computer science in early childhood education and find ways to support it. If they do not prioritize this effort, the future workforce will lack the desired technical skills needed to become employable. The U.S. must catch up to other countries in providing its youth with 21st-century skills, as neglecting to do so poses a significant risk to the country’s economic future.
Computer science must become as fundamental a part of education as the traditional subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic if we want to ensure the country’s prosperity and its children’s success. In this article, I will outline some ways it can empower learners and three strategies companies can use to help bring coding education to their communities.
Coding has become a base requirement in many careers.
The next generation of coders is already preparing for tomorrow’s most innovative jobs, and by 2033, graduating high schoolers will be divided into those with computer science skills and those without. This will create an economic divide between countries that invest in coding education and those that don’t—with the former prospering in the job market and the latter struggling. Otherwise, companies like yours and mine will be forced to move higher-paying technical jobs overseas.
A successful career in the future depends on students learning how to code in order to meet the forecasted demand for jobs requiring technical skills. I’ve written further about this increased demand for coding skills across careers in this piece. By democratizing coding and guaranteeing access to coding instruction, students from every walk of life might gain access to vast opportunities.
At what age can students begin to learn to code?
Coding is an enjoyable experience for children as young as six, and kids can grasp fundamental computing concepts just as they do with math and English. In addition, numerous studies have shown that students who take computer science classes outperform their peers in standardized tests in math and reading.
Coding activities, tutorials and games aimed at children are available online; most are free or inexpensive. There is no downside to introducing children to coding early in their school careers, and students exposed to computer science while young are more likely to pursue STEM-related fields in college.
Learning to code also fosters creativity, problem-solving, collaboration, resilience and determination. The reward of success, whether through a small program or a major project, is incredibly satisfying. In addition, knowing how to code can help set a child up for maximum individual freedom later in life when it comes to career choices.
Here are strategies companies can use to help bring coding education to their communities.
1. Invest in free coding education programs.
A few examples of businesses supporting coding education include Microsoft, which has partnerships with local schools to offer computer science education and resources to students, and running programs like DigiGirlz, which exposes young women to technology careers. Another example is Apple, which runs coding workshops for kids and teenagers at its retail stores and provides educational resources to teachers and students through its Everyone Can Code program. Google also supports coding education through initiatives like Made with Code, which inspires girls to explore careers in technology, and Code with Google, which provides resources and support to help schools and educators teach computer science.
2. Host coding events and competitions.
Another way businesses can promote coding education is by sponsoring coding events or competitions for kids and young adults in their local community. My own company Tynker, for example, runs code jam competitions for kids and teens to encourage them to learn about coding and explore their creativity and problem-solving skills. We’ve experienced great success sponsoring a hackathon for high school students to encourage them to learn about coding. Such events can provide students with a fun and challenging learning experience while allowing companies to connect with the local community and share their passion for coding and technology.
3. Offer internships.
Finally, businesses can promote coding education by providing internships and job opportunities for students and young professionals interested in pursuing a career in coding. By offering hands-on experience and real-world exposure, businesses can help aspiring coders hone their skills and gain a deeper understanding of the field. This can benefit individuals while also strengthening the local community and helping promote the importance of coding education.
Is your company seeking to invest in coding education?
There are many ways for businesses to promote coding education and connect with their local community, and it’s time we get creative. Through sponsoring coding events, partnering with schools and educational organizations and providing internships and job opportunities, businesses can positively impact and help inspire the next generation of coders. By investing in coding education to help support the local community, companies can foster a more diverse and skilled workforce, helping to drive technological innovation.
This article was first published on Forbes