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Melissa Sariffodeen is CEO and co-founder of Canada Learning Code

Digital and technological innovation has created overwhelming demand in the economy for people with coding and computer science skills, yet only four out of 13 provinces and territories have mandated these skills in their curriculum for students. With Ontario and Alberta reviewing their primary and secondary school curriculums, now is the time to bring computational-thinking fundamentals and basic coding skills into classrooms across the country. If we don’t, Canada risks falling behind.

The lack of coding instruction in the classroom forces parents, if they have the means, to turn to private programs outside of school if they want their children to acquire these foundational skills. To ensure all Canadians have access to learning these skills – including those groups most underrepresented in an industry lacking in diversity and facing challenges in attracting women into its ranks – out-of-school time programs alone aren’t enough.

Canadians want it, understand its importance and feel as if they do not get enough opportunities to learn coding. A recent study by Abacus Data shows 91 per cent of Canadians think learning coding and computer science is important, and 69 per cent support getting more of it into classrooms. Coding is seen as relevant for today (90 per cent) and needed in the future (74 per cent). The study shows consistent results in every region of Canada.

The demand for learning to code and other technical skills is strong and growing. Canada Learning Code, a non-profit that champions digital literacy, is seeing increasing demand from adults, children, teens and teachers who want to learn to code. Teachers across Canada are taking the initiative to access free Teachers Learning Code programs and resources to help them introduce lessons into their classrooms, but these efforts are only scratching the surface of what is needed.

The federal government’s recent Economic Strategy Tables report laid out the need to fundamentally change Canada’s approach to skills and talent. The report revealed 83 per cent of educational providers believe graduates are prepared for the job market, yet only 34 per cent of employers could say the same. It will take government, industry and civil society working together to bridge this gap. Out-of-school programs alone are not the long-term solution.

To truly transform the digital landscape and provide equal access to all Canadians, we need to establish common approaches to coding, computer science and computational thinking. A Brookfield Institute study on digital literacy in Canada revealed there is no universal agreement on how to introduce coding concepts into the education system or how much students need to know. That is why Canada Learning Code is convening a pan-Canadian forum in Halifax this week to chart a course, collaboratively.

Leveraging the work done by and with the support of industry, this collaboration aims to establish a pan-Canadian K-12 computer science education framework that will allow for strengthened research into teaching best practices and implementing a focus on the essential, foundational knowledge and skills that need to be taught. This framework will broaden participation in computer science long before children and youth stumble upon it as a high school elective course or through their own initiative.

The benefits of learning to code and computational thinking extend beyond learning a specific skill such as how to build a website or a mobile app. Understanding how technology is built, through coding, allows someone to better understand problems and helps to foster creative thinking and collaboration to develop solutions. It enables everyone to not only use technology, but also be able to understand and create it.

At its core, adapting the K-12 curriculum to include coding and computational thinking will better position Canada to succeed and prosper. It will help meet industry demand, improve the quality of life for Canadians and, most important, improve the lives of others by empowering Canadians to solve problems using technology that anyone can control, adapt and improve. The sooner we get started, the better off we will all be.