Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Allie Zumwalt, left, Noelle Brown and Isabel Blackburn play with Ozobots at Girls Go Digital! technology and coding camp at Junior Achievement City in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 19, 2016. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Silicon Valley corporations, concerned parents and private investors are working to increase coding literacy among Utah’s youths. While these initiatives have made coding curriculum available to thousands of students, the Utah public education system must do more to ensure coding skills are available to all — investing long term in Utah’s residents and economy.

Today, the technology sector experiences one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, with most companies having to look outside the United States to fill their technical roles. These unfilled jobs cost the economy over $1 billion annually. As a result, investing in coding literacy among American youths is a profit-driven incentive for Silicon Valley companies.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said last year that “coding should be a requirement in every public school.” Alongside Google and Facebook, Apple has worked to make coding education a priority for young students — investing in the industry-backed nonprofit Code.org and successfully lobbying for new curriculum in two dozen states. Utah has felt the effects of this expensive and concerted lobbying effort, which has been almost exclusively driven by the private sector.

The initiative of philanthropic donors, nonprofits and private companies in bringing coding curriculum to Utah’s young population deserves praise. Specifically, the organization Girls Who Code launched 50 new clubs in the state this year, seeking to promote gender parity within the currently skewed tech industry. Additionally, Davis County elementary schools will give all students access to coding curriculum by next year thanks in part to the generosity of BootUp, a Utah nonprofit, and partners United Way and BYU. Finally, new companies are offering coding as an educational after-school opportunity across the state.

But, philanthropy and private investment only go so far, and the Utah educational system must work to ensure its curriculum offers Utah’s youths the skills needed to thrive in a 21st-century workplace. In doing so, the state can reclaim the educational priorities for students from the lobbying influence of Silicon Valley — a lobby whose primary motives may not be with students' success.

Utah should continue to expand and invest in the “Tech Pathways” program of the Talent Ready Utah initiative, and teachers should be trained to help students gain access to the program. Additionally, school districts must consider what preparatory skills would be beneficial at younger ages — from basic coding literacy to exposure to design thinking curriculum — to help students excel in more specialized programs later.

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Finally, a culture of interdisciplinary positivity is essential to helping kids avoid self-sorting themselves into disciplines too early; one bad grade in a subject should not be disqualifying to a field that may be the student’s best fit. The skills needed to succeed in a globalized, digital era require an inherent flexibility and a capacity to collaborate across fields. In this sense, coding literacy should be viewed as one facet of a well-rounded education; one that will necessarily require an interdisciplinary approach to prepare students for the future.

The job of Utah educators is to design a curriculum that both reflects these needs and ensure it is accessible to all students.