[This is the transcript of my regular KVMR commentary broadcast on 14 March 13, 2014.]
It’s TechTest season again. On April 5th some of Nevada County’s brightest students heading for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math or STEM careers will be competing in a grueling four-hour merit scholarship exam that has become a springtime rite of passage for our high school juniors and seniors. The test is sponsored by the Sierra Economics and Science Foundation with scholarship contributions coming from a variety of local individuals and organizations. If you know of a young person who should compete with the elite this year, please contact Mr John McDaniel at Nevada Union High School where the test will be given.
This brings me to the topic of how education is changing to meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s job markets. In these commentaries I have talked about the related topics of widespread innumeracy and the growth of systemic unemployment in these pre-Singularity years, when accelerating technology is producing machines that will soon be smarter than humans.
Most economists and students of the human condition agree that technical literacy of workers will be the common denominator in all wealth creating jobs. Even if you are not a STEM worker, you will be required to understand enough about STEM subjects in order to work with or manage such people. The fundamental requirement and stepping stone to that ability is being numerate, and the most important aspect of numeracy is the ability to think logically and algorithmically – to be able to understand systematic processes and conceive of reliable procedures that accomplish a given goal.
It turns out that to acquire this ability, learning to program computers to various levels is the most effective and useful skill. Universities, public schools, and private enterprises have launched a two-pronged approach to teach how to write computer code, and about what computer programming entails, especially as it used on the internet and working with large databases, or simply ‘big data’.
More and more kids in the early grades are being offered programming classes, workshops, and bootcamps to introduce them to basic concepts of creating programs that can display web pages and handle numbers. Several easy to learn programming languages have been developed to allow students to write code, and then immediately see their work on the web. In these environments young people enthusiastically embrace such challenges where they learn how the familiar world around them happens.
By the fifth grade 10-year-olds can enroll in formal courses offered by a variety of organizations that teach web programming. And this activity is not only a draw for STEM oriented students. The fundamental principle at work here is that “coding is important because it teaches a different way of thinking. Programming teaches logic, higher-level math and learning concepts that make you smarter and useful no matter what.” (more here) In short, understanding programming basics should be an arrow in all of our quivers. It then follows that concerned parents should find out whether their children go to a school that offers programming classes?
These same learning concepts are being pursued by adults. Workers from diverse fields are signing up for web and data programming classes, paying over $10,000 for courses lasting several weeks. Showing such STEM capabilities on their resumes makes them very desirable to a variety of employers, besides giving credence that such workers can reason and think logically.
Finally, today mid- and top-level managers are taking programming courses designed for them. And this not for the purpose of their being able to create a website, but to be able to manage information technology workers and projects, because they need to know what is involved in such undertakings.
So we should all take a moment to consider what will be required of us to understand today’s world, to speak about it reasonably, and perhaps to even contribute to the building of a better tomorrow.
My name is Rebane, and I also expand on this and related themes on NCTV and georgerebane.com where the transcript of this commentary is posted with relevant links, and where such issues are debated extensively. However my views are not necessarily shared by KVMR. Thank you for listening.