Jabbor Kayumov | Coding our future
Jamaica’s primary and high school students are poised to become the next generation of innovators in the fast-growing digital economy. With the recent announcement of a $150-million partnership involving Digicel, the Amber Group and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information to roll out the national coding curriculum – the first of its kind in the Caribbean – students will begin to develop basic and advanced learning in coding.
WHAT IS CODING?
Simply put, coding is the method by which humans instruct computer-based devices to do certain tasks. With everything going digital these days, the Coding in Schools programme is will help unleash the students’ creativity and ingenuity, inspire breakthroughs in innovation and foster a culture of digital entrepreneurship.
Let’s face it, we use our smartphones, computers and voice-activated home assistants to perform day-to-day functions with ease, not always considering the more complex frameworks that they are built on. Every day new mobile apps, websites and software are developed to carry out simple or complex tasks that make life easier for end-users. While everything runs smoothly in the foreground, on the back-end of an app or computer software is an extensive thread of codes that give instructions to your devices each time you input a request. Skilled developers who have mastered the art of programming create these codes. Coding is essentially a method of communicating with computers for them to perform specified functions. The type of coding language that is used will depend heavily on the use case for each new app, video game, website or software.
CODING IS THE NEW LITERACY
Like Spanish or French, language acquisition can be quite easy for children. Coding, although it is not a spoken language, is no exception. When we think of our ABCs and the emphasis placed on learning it from an early age, the same principle can be applied to coding and its introduction in schools. From Java Script to Python to PHP, coding languages have become a staple on the growing list of 21st-century skills. Coding is one skill that will position our young people as globally competent and poised for participating in the fast-growing digital economy. A Python coder, for example, can earn an average of US$120,000 (J$18 million) annually. Not only are careers in coding financially rewarding, they also allow you to work from anywhere in the world. This throws the digital door wide open for Jamaican creatives to position our destination as a hub for global firms looking to outsource this type of service; much like the customer service support that over 40,000 Jamaicans in the Business Process Outsourcing sector provide to several large North American companies. Moreover, with the introduction of digital currencies and mobile payments (MPay), the demand for coders will only continue to grow, and, like tourism, could become Jamaica’s next best foreign exchange earner.
PARENTS MUST KNOW THE CODE TOO
Training and inspiring the next generation of coders in Jamaica will be pivotal to the way we design everything, including ‘smart cities’. Imagine training the first batch of Coding in Schools graduates to design a smart city that uses connected sensors, meters, lights, cameras and voice-assisted technology to improve citizens’ experiences in the growing university town of Mandeville. Before we even get there, their parents must show a desired level of openness and willingness to understand how important it is for their children to learn coding, regardless of their chosen ambition. For this reason, a public education campaign will be needed to help parents with resetting the goals and expectations they’ve set for their children who will soon be stepping out into an increasingly digital world of work. And, while the parents are at it, they need to learn coding too!
Progressively, more jobs are going digital: E-medicine is already transforming the delivery of healthcare via apps; self-driving cars are changing the role of taxi operators; and, self-check-out is making the role of cashiers redundant. The upside to these shifts is the corresponding increase in digital job opportunities for persons to become coders and carry out the development, maintenance and upgrades to the apps and algorithms that drive those innovations. Coders can also work independently and choose to offer their services via digital platforms like Upwork, Etsy and Uber, and, in the process, revolutionise the way we approach traditional jobs.
CRACKING THE APP CODE
The next frontier for Jamaica’s upcoming generation of coders is for them to develop an app that could rule the social media world in the same way Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok already do. This is not beyond us as a people who punch well above our weight when it comes to taking our natural talent in sports, music and the arts to the world. As an example, the next amazing Jamaican-born app could first join the family of digital lifestyle apps that Digicel offers locally to its customers, before making it big on the world stage. This could become a successful model for local firms could to act as digital incubators for creative coders.
CODING IS OUR FUTURE!
Coding is set to become the digital vehicle that will move our labour market up the value chain and prepare our people to take full advantage of the fifth industrial revolution where mind meets machine.
While we look to coding to reshape our future, many other benefits can come from adding it to the school curriculum. Coding is an intellectually stimulating activity that has been proven to improve critical thinking, creativity, boost brain power, sharpen cognitive skills and reduce the chances of acquiring degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. It has also been said that learning to code is learning to learn.
With all the social, economic, intellectual and human development benefits of coding considered, Jamaica’s Coding in Schools programme – set to begin in early 2022 and benefit 400,000 students and 15,000 teachers – is our boldest step thus far into the digital future.
I’ve been in Jamaica long enough to understand the term “time come”, and that’s exactly how I feel about this very promising launch of the Coding in Schools Programme – powered by Digicel. Indeed, the time has come for our young people to not only be end users of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, apps, algorithms and robots, they can actually use these technologies change the world in ways we could never have imagined. As Jamaica’s Digital Operator, this programme is very important to us, because we understand the life-changing benefits that can come when we leverage advanced digital training to shape the future and the fortunes of our country and our people.
Jabbor Kayumov is the chief executive officer of Digicel Jamaica.