Where can computing take students, and why should they study it?

An often-quoted statistic says that 65% of children leaving primary school will do a job that doesn’t exist yet. How can studying computing help us keep up? It is clear that we now live in a highly digitally-enabled world. There are few, if any, areas...

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An often-quoted statistic says that 65% of children leaving primary school will do a job that doesn’t exist yet. How can studying computing help us keep up?

It is clear that we now live in a highly digitally-enabled world. There are few, if any, areas of our lives that are not at least partly reliant on a digital infrastructure, from the ways we work to the ways we play.

Jobs of the future

This change continues to happen at a rapid pace. An often quoted statistic from the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Study is that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.

To illustrate this point, here in the Pearson offices, we decided to have a go at listing ten jobs that didn’t exist only twenty years ago, just before the turn of the millennium. You can almost certainly come up with your own entirely different selection, but here is what we came up with:

  1. App Developer
  2. Social Media Manager
  3. Uber / Lyft / Grab Driver
  4. Drone Operator
  5. Cloud Computing Specialist
  6. Big Data Analyst / Data Scientist
  7. YouTube Content Creator
  8. AI Engineer
  9. Virtual Assistant
  10. Telemedicine Physician

Non-digital to digital

What I find most fascinating about this list is that almost all of them have a non-digital equivalent in the pre-digital world. While Cloud Computing Specialists only exist due to the advances in technology that allow for Cloud Computing, the majority are digital evolutions of analogue processes.

Take Uber (or Lyft, Careem or Grab, depending on your local preference!) drivers, as an example. Since the invention of the wheel, it would be safe to assume that people have been requesting that they are transported from one location to another without using their own energy or equipment. In fact, this doesn’t even require a wheel – think of the Kings and Queens of hundreds of years ago being carried on the shoulders of their minions on sedan chairs.

So ride-sharing services are a digital evolution of a centuries-old process that has moved on from being carried on the shoulders of your subjects to being able to hail a car from a device that fits in your pocket – and is more powerful than the computers that first sent man to the moon, fifty years ago.

The march of technology

Yet the march of technology is, of course, not always entirely and uniformly positive. To continue on the theme of ride-sharing services – and to paraphrase a popular meme – twenty years ago we were told not to get in cars with strangers and not to meet people from the internet; now we can summon a stranger, from the internet, and pay for the privilege of riding in their car. Sometimes this can have serious consequences for the rider or the driver.

Where can computing take students?

So, what does all of this have to do with teaching Computing, and the applications of that in our ever-changing world?

Firstly, it highlights how a vast number of innovations are evolutions of existing products using digital technology to move them forwards. Studying Computing gives us the tools to analyse situations and processes and to see how to improve them.

But secondly, and just as importantly, is tasks us with looking critically at these situations, identifying risks and possible drawbacks, and applying human decision-making as well.

This is because teaching and learning Computing as a subject is as much about a mindset as anything else. It is about problem solving, logic, and algorithmic thinking. It is about staying safe online, knowing how to identify reputable sources and being digitally literate.

It’s not just about programming (although it is a bit about programming!), but about the skills that will equip our children and learners for jobs that don’t yet exist.

So, where can Computing take you? The answer is: anywhere you want, but we probably don’t know where that is yet!

 

About the author

David Albon is the Director for International Curriculum at Pearson, and has been working in international education for over a decade. His real claim to fame, however, is that he used to work in the videogames industry and once even appeared in a computer game…

 

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