This article was originally written on April 18, 2014 for the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, and is republished here.
In 2012, the mayor of New York City famously announced that, for his New Year's resolution, he would learn how to code. He also inadvertently sparked a populist movement. Within a year, industry leaders like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey had rallied around Code.org, a movement to get school children to learn about programming. This past December, over 20 million students worldwide participated in Code.org's Hour of Code 2013, an event designed to promote computer science education.
Why are so many folks in the private sector so interested in promoting technology education - and specifically programming - for youth in their communities? The answer isn't immediately apparent, and varies from person to person. Some have children, and want to give them a head start. Others want to close the present skills gap. Looking to the future, some recognize the economic imperative to transition to STEM industries, in order to secure our region's prosperity. Still others believe that programming helps teach abstract thinking, logical reasoning and a host of other cognitive skills at much younger ages.
I believe the goal of education is to provide future generations with the means to create their own opportunities, by equipping them with three assets: social capital, cultural capital and intellectual capital.
Social capital includes relationship and communication skills, as well as an understanding of our society's structures, institutions and networks. Cultural capital describes attitudes, values, and ways of thinking that are linked to success and prosperity. Finally, intellectual capital (or human capital) describes the stock competencies, skills, knowledge and literacies that we all need to produce valuable work.
Together, these assets help students identify, create and capitalize on opportunity, by discovering a passion or talent, starting a business, or finding a job locally or abroad.
We need to give students as much capital as we can.
The more competencies, skills and literacies students can acquire, the more opportunities they can identify, create and exploit. Nowadays, digital literacy is a fundamental part of creating opportunity, just like the ability to read, write or do math. In this century, to be "literate" means finding and evaluating information, assessing tools and using them to solve problems, thinking systematically about existing solutions, and building new ones. Technology education is a critical part of all these processes.
By promoting technology education, all of us are working toward the same goal. We're building support structures, and giving students tools to help them prosper. We're doing this because our economy depends on it, our region depends on it, and our businesses depend on it.
"Learning to code", inasmuch as it promotes digital literacy, unlocks opportunities for all comers. I hope you'll join us on the scaffolding, and consider becoming an advocate yourself.