A is for Algorithm

by Jeppe Damberg, United World College Maastricht
12th May, 2018

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]andarin has been referred to the “language of the future” due to the anticipated need for Mandarin speakers in a global economy partially dominated by China and South East Asian countries, but there exist other languages that likewise will dominate how we communicate in the future. These go by the names of Java, C++ and Swift and they are computer-programming languages. In an increasingly digitally-integrated world, these languages are becoming necessary know-how for governments wishing to achieve economic growth, companies wanting market-share and individuals seeking to claim well-payed jobs or engage in entrepreneurship.
Digital technology is now so ubiquitous that many think a rounded education requires a grounding in this subject just as much as in biology, chemistry or physics. In fact, the IBO has offered Computer Science as a part of the group 4 subjects (experimental sciences) since 2014. And though Computer Science is a broad subject with many different and difficult aspects, the IB course seems to offer a solid foundation for the skills needed for students wanting to pursue the subject.
Java is the most popular computer-programming language in the world. It is a text-based language capable of supporting some of our most advanced applications, and it is known for being quite difficult. Yet, many IB schools that teach the IB Computer Science course spent a majority of the two-year course teaching Java successfully. According to founder of “Code to The Future”, Andrew Svehaug, going through the process of learning Java “gives a solid foundation of learning other computer-programming languages and provides a student with the equity needed to lead the way in the future.”
Unfortunately, though our movement prides itself with inspiring and educating change makers, only UWC ISAK, MUWCI and UWCSEA offer the Computer Science course. It is patent that the shallower the pool of people who know the basics, the smaller the number of potential tech entrepreneurs or academics wanting to push the subject further. Additionally, when the UWC Strategy “2018 and Beyond” was published this year it held in its part 9, “Upgrade”, initiatives to utilize technology in order to strengthen shared-information and communication across UWC’s and national committees as well as initiatives to increase the use of technology as a form of learning-support in education but mentioned no emphasis on offering to teach technology courses. This is problematic as the strategy did state that “the global mobility of capital, digital data and elites is now followed by global migration of the less privileged, displaced by conflicts or desperately searching for a livelihood,” emphasizing the role of digital data and technology in the challenges facing the world, and that “education has the responsibility to provide the next generation with the attitudes, skills and competencies to deal with these challenges” in its outline of “The World Today and The Role Of Education.”

At Davos 2017, the role of education in harvesting labour benefits of an increasingly digital economy was a core topic.

Beyond the need for UWC to educate change makers, employers’ demand for coding skills is another reason that the pendulum swings towards teaching coding. In 2015, seven million job openings in the United States were in occupations that required coding skills, and programming jobs overall are now growing 12% faster than the market average. The shortage of skilled programmers in both Europe and the United States is also clear from the high salaries they claim, often in six figures. And though it is difficult predicting the future, in a session on “Jobs and the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Saadia Zahidi, the Head of Education, Gender and Work at the World Economic Forum, cited predictions that in the future 47% of jobs may be automated away, while other predictions were more cautious, suggesting figure of only 9%. In any case, education must prepare for a tectonic shift at the fundamental level of our economy, and UWC should carry the torch in that pursuit. To prepare students for an economy increasingly dominated by technology, they need to learn the basics already in high school. The IB has already developed a solid DP Computer Science course, there is no argument not to allocate funds towards it.