Beyond Coding: Preparing Students for the Workplace of Tomorrow

Over the last decade, I’ve discovered that, as a global society, we have a unique opportunity to improve how we equip future creators of the world to thrive; specifically, how we prepare the learners of today for the jobs of tomorrow.

Those jobs will demand an understanding of technology—and not just at a basic level. According to XQ Institute’s report High School & the Future of Work, the biggest change between the workforce today and the workforce in 2030 will be the demand for advanced IT and programming skills. Even if students don’t plan on becoming a programmer, those skills will be crucial.

Despite intelligent, hard-working educators at all levels, our educational systems are often not structured to tackle the challenge of teaching children how to understand technology. Teachers and administrators cycle toward burnout as they take on the hardest jobs in the world—and in some countries, like the United States, the lowest amount of pay and support. And the places that are “succeeding” in preparing students for the technology-driven future, according to test scores, tend to have the most homogenous students, which will not be the norm in future generations.

There are, of course, pockets of excellence within the education system, where educators have figured out how to help students on the journey toward technological proficiency. Located in places around the globe, what these educators have in common is an incredible focus on the individual learner combined with the belief that anyone can succeed.

How are these educators preparing students for the workforce of tomorrow? Here are a few guiding principles:

Introducing the Fourth ‘R’

Since the 19th Century, the three Rs are essential skills taught in schools: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Students today need a fourth “R.” In this instance, that would be “R” for “rhythm,” as in algorithms or necessary computational skills.

By teaching children algorithmic or computational thinking, we’re providing the tools that enable them to approach problem-solving in a more creative and agile way. These skills are at the very core of real-time 3D development, a technological movement that will continue to grow in importance and demand as the world increasingly embraces visual 3D content.

The fourth “R” should be mandatory in schools, even if a young person doesn’t enter into what we’d consider a traditional technology-focused career.

Focus on Teaching the Whole Child

Too many organizations today simply teach coding but don’t offer the additional level of education that addresses the whole child: their skills, mindset, and behavior. This limitation puts a strain on the passion and capacity of the learner.

Instead, educators should be rethinking their curriculum to address not only the subject matter at hand (in this case, coding), but the other skills they are teaching the students, such as critical thinking, collaboration, and communication—all vital for any workplace.

According to the same XQ Institute report, aside from technological skills, social-emotional and higher-order thinking skills will be in the highest demand for future workers. Teachers must take a critical look at how they are preparing students for this future.

By approaching coursework in this way, it will also help parents move past the common perception that a coding program is comprised of kids playing video games on tablets. While video games have proven educational benefits, relying on them too heavily reinforces restrictive stereotypes.

Today, technology programs need to be built with the whole child in mind so that learners can get more out of programs than simply learning how to code.

Transforming Teachers into Lifelong Learning Coaches

There is an outdated perception that teachers must be masters of all subject matter they teach. In reality, it is nearly impossible for teachers to keep their curriculum current enough to match the fast-paced, technology-centered world that exists today. That’s why teachers should focus on becoming “learning coaches” when teaching technology—helping learners develop grit, tenacity, curiosity, and eventually mastery.

It’s also important for educators to take advantage of all of the resources available to them. Many are unaware that the best resources are as close as the nearest connected device, and often provided by companies with a vested interest in finding the next generation of talented workers.

The materials to learn how to teach real-time development can be found for free online, allowing teachers to hone in on what they do best: enabling a lifelong love of learning.

It can seem daunting to prepare today’s students for a future that is sure to look even more technologically advanced a few years from now. But by focusing on a few vital building blocks—namely, the importance of computational literacy, remembering the bigger picture, and the role that teachers can play in encouraging lifelong learning—it’s possible to have students arrive in that future fully prepared to play their parts. There’s no better time to start than right now.

Jessica Lindl is Global Head of Education for Unity Technologies.