‘Important’ job skill you don't really need
DEPENDING on who you ask, the most important language Aussie kids will learn in school might not be French, German or Mandarin, but rather computer coding.
It might sound strange to equate the two but the languages of coding and computer programming will soon be the most commonly understood in the world. There has been a concerted push in Australia to catch up to the rest of the world when it comes to teaching our kids to code - but are we in a mad rush for the wrong reasons?
Brisbane based teen Taj Pabari thinks coding isn't a skill we will need for the future - and he knows a thing of two about shaping the future.
The teenage inventor and entrepreneur started his career by creating a technology website when he was 11 years old.
In 2014 he founded his company Fiftysix, which started out manufacturing and selling build-your-own electronic tablets teaching kids about the building blocks of computers that make up our digital world. The company has since morphed into a leading independent educational provider running workshops across the country focusing on entrepreneurship and creativity.
He was the 2017 Queensland Young Australian of the Year and collaborates with some of the world's biggest tech companies to help encourage Australia's new generation to become the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.
And did we mention he's only 18 years old?
Queensland has introduced mandatory coding into its primary school curriculum; last year a similar push was introduced in Victoria and in December NSW made coding a part of the set curriculum for students from kindergarten upwards, beginning in 2019.
As part of its quest to help young Australians to dream big, Fiftysix has produced a new research report on the future of work and Mr Pabari thinks state governments are wrong to mandate coding education for all students.
"I've been in the education space for a while, obviously as a student and with my organisation," he said.
"We saw the British Prime Minister saying coding was important, our Prime Minister saying coding was important, over in the US Barack Obama saying every kid needs to learn how to code," he recalled.
As a result Fiftysix "was on the same bandwagon" but Mr Pabari said that changed about two years ago.
"When we looked at the workforce of the future what came back as being important for businesses and parents were people skills like interpersonal skills, communication and public speaking," he said.
Coding, he believes, will not be a skill used by many future Aussie workers in part because self learning and self correcting algorithms will be able to do a lot of basic coding functions in the near future.
He's not alone in his outlook. In a 2017 academic paper, researchers from the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory suggested that machine learning and natural language processing technologies will replace most human coders by 2040.
Mr Pabari points to Microsoft's DeepCoder research program as an example of the type of computational power that will take over the coding world.
"The mechanisms are there, the code is there for it to do it itself," he said.
"Some of the more basic tasks, a majority of the tasks computer programmers are doing today will be replaced by that AI type system. So really teaching every single kid to code is useless."
Which is not to say no-one needs to learn or understand how to code. Even if you don't grow up to have a career as a software engineer there is still value in understanding the language that underpins the computer programs we use every day.
However Mr Pabari says the economic argument typically evoked to promote the need for mandatory coding education doesn't add up. While the demand for coders is high now, it won't always be the case.
"Economically it does not make sense for every kid to code, inevitable if you teach a whole generation of coders ... the price of hiring those coders will go down," he said.
"Training every single child, to me that doesn't make sense. They're going to be graduating in 2031, we don't know what the workforce is going to look like but I can certainly guarantee that it's not going to need every single kid coding."
AUSTRALIA PLAYING CATCH UP
Of course there's no reason we can't have the best of both worlds - and many other countries are embracing coding curriculum.
Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Estonia and England have all mandated coding and programming classes in school with kids as young as five learning to code and create their own computer games.
Meanwhile US-led initiatives such as Code.org and the Hour of Code, backed by organisations like Microsoft and Google champion the need for young students around the world to have the opportunity to learn coding.
Some Aussie parents are worrying about their kids falling behind when it comes to the skills of the future and are enrolling them in holiday camps to learn things like coding and software development.
Sydneysiders Ben Levi and Peter Neill are founders of Code Camp which is well on the way to achieving its goal of teaching 200,000 Aussie kids to code by 2020 through holiday programs and after school workshops.
They think coding is only becoming more essential for future workers.
"I think we're in a good place now to learn from other countries and see what's worked and what hasn't," Mr Levi told news.com.au last year.
"So while we may be starting a bit behind, we can make sure we have the biggest impact possible for the future."
'I WAS JUST YOUR TYPICALLY ANNOYING KID'
Mr Pabari was far from a star pupil and was actually suspended three times before he got to his secondary years of school. Fiftysix is about providing an educational experience for kids just like him, who didn't fit the mould.
"I was suspended for being a nuisance, having the wrong things on my computer, interrupting class, I was just your typically annoying kid and wasn't interested," he said.
"This is very much aligned with what I wanted when I grew up," he added, referring to the education workshops offered by Fiftysix.
According to its 18-year-old CEO, Fiftysix has worked with around 39,000 kids, many in regional and underprivileged areas, teaching them "enterprising skills".
Participants come up with their very own social change idea and devise a solution to solve that community, or global, problem.
"And then they learn to present them," Mr Pabari said. "Skills that only humans can do."
He once told the ABC he wants to be the Australia's Steve Jobs, and just like the late Apple co-founder, he has a flair for self promotion.
"From suspended schoolboy to educational pioneer. Taj Pabari is living proof that anyone with determination and passion can change the world," proclaims his website.
But it seems changing the world doesn't have to involve coding.