Is Learning to Code Good For Democracy?

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Participation Thursday, February 01, 2018 View Count = 400

Is Learning to Code Good For Democracy?

Furtado Headshot This week's blog post was written by guest blogger Robert Furtado. Robert is the Founder of Course Compare, Canada’s online marketplace for tech education. He began his career as a communications advisor in the Ontario government under Premier Dalton McGuinty. If you’re interested in learning a new skill, you can check out Canada’s leading coding bootcampsdigital marketing coursesUX coursesproduct management courses and more at CourseCompare.ca.




Students coding - Samara


Politicians, including Canada’s
Prime Minister, are beginning to acknowledge what computer scientists have warned for decades: understanding code will become as essential as reading and writing.

It’s no wonder British Columbia and Nova Scotia have introduced computer programming into their schools’ curriculums. Their efforts are part of a broader strategy to bolster each province’s tech talent and fill the more than 216,000 jobs in information and communications technology Canada will have created by 2021. (In Ontario, where demand for tech talent will be 3.5 times greater than in British Columbia, computer science remains an elective high-school course.)

If computer scientists and politicians are right, then it isn’t only job seekers who should take heed. Improving Canadians’ digital literacy, especially in coding and digital media, could help democratize knowledge and skills that are currently reserved to a small elite.

The New Town Hall    

At a minimum, levelling up the nation’s digital media savvy will help citizens engage in new deliberative forums where so much politics today takes place.

According to Samara’s most recent report card on the state of Canadian democracy, 99 per cent of our nation’s politicians use Twitter and Facebook to engage with constituents, and 88 per cent have a presence on YouTube. But there are plenty of forums for meaningful public engagement beyond the big three.

If you care about the future of Toronto’s urban development but are unfamiliar with a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), then you probably missed Dan Doctoroff, chief executive of Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, holding an online public consultation about Toronto’s impending technological future this month (think self-driving transit, heated bike and pedestrian lanes, and new tech to monitor and manage traffic flows). Doctoroff follows in the footsteps of Premier Kathleen Wynne, President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump, all of whom have hosted their own AMA’s over the years.

Social media hasn’t just changed where people in power go to engage citizens or how they run political campaigns—it’s transformed the very nature of political interaction itself. The upshot is citizens can harness these same tools to mobilize their own groups and affect political change on a national scale, even topple authoritarian governments, if they understand how.

The New Shape of Inequality

It’s also important to ask ourselves who’s building the tech ecosystem of the 21st century. Who, in other words, is hacking out the disruptive technologies that are reshaping social interaction, privacy and power in our digital society?

Going by the number of computer science majors graduating each year, not just anyone can stake a claim in our largely unregulated digital economy. In 2009, for example, statistics Canada reported 73 per cent of computer science graduates were men.  

The number of visible minorities in tech isn’t exactly inspiring, either. At Apple, more than half of employees in 2017 were white. Roughly 21 per cent of the company’s U.S. workforce was Asian, nine per cent were black, and 13 per cent were Latino.

Not-for-profits like Ladies Learning Code and Girls Learning Code in Toronto, Chic Geek in Calgary, and Pixelles in Montreal, are just several efforts popping up to help even the playing field. And, just in the last five or six years, a raft of private career colleges and online educators have emerged to offer coding bootcamps to the masses.                                           

The New Literacy

You don’t need to become a full-stack web developer to be a good citizen. But understanding how technology works – understanding its possibilities and limitations, and getting an equal shot to contribute to its potential – gives citizens a new form of influence beyond the ballot box. Indeed, it helps them become more effective citizens.

As kids sit in history, biology, geometry and geography classes this year, it’s therefore hard not to imagine a place for computing in their curriculum. In Britain, elementary school students have been learning to code since 2014, when computing became part of the national curriculum. Other European and Asian countries are now following suit.

That’s because digital technology is already as inescapable for this cohort as reading and writing.

So next time a politician tells you learning to code is good for the economy, be sure to reply, “It’s good for democracy, too.”

 

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