This week Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau delivered a budget speech focusing on two familiar concepts: skills and innovation. They’ve been a recurring pair of players in conversations across the country – in classrooms and boardrooms, including one right here at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E). There is much goodwill in trying to connect people with the skills they need to succeed.
There’s a growing understanding that inclusive growth is the name of the game, and that focusing on full throttle innovation, without understanding the consequences for people, recklessly and needlessly risks leaving too many behind.
When BII+E sought to start a conversation about what the rise of technology would mean for Canadians through our report The Talented Mr. Robot, we were overwhelmed by the diverse range of players that came forward to discuss possible solutions. One of these conversations focused on the need to teach digital literacy to new audiences, and the Digital Literacy + Coding Pilot was born.
A Future for All Youth?
Our research tells us that over the next 20 years, the impacts of automation are likely to be felt most by the lowest earners and those with the least access to education.
Meanwhile, many growing industries are demanding highly skilled workers holding at least a bachelor’s degree, often in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields (STEM). This presents a challenge for a significant proportion of Canada’s youth, particularly women and visible minorities. For instance, women only make up 39% of STEM field graduates aged 25 to 34, despite representing 66% of non-STEM graduates. Additionally, local evidence suggests that high school graduation rates are disproportionately low for Canada’s Indigenous, Black, and Latin American youth, making it difficult for these young people to even apply to university.
So the question is: How might we ensure that all youth, particularly those most at risk of being impacted by automation, are able to build the critical skills and experience needed to thrive in today’s uncertain economy? Solving this problem is necessary not only for Canada’s future economic growth, but also for ensuring the future prosperity of all Canadians.
Creating Digitally Literate Talent
We believe that one of the answers to supporting inclusive economic growth is increasing access to digital literacy, especially for youth who are currently underrepresented in the STEM fields.
Currently, components of digital literacy training are available to youth through formal education and extracurricular programs. However, formal curricula can be slow to change, and the necessary resources are often out of reach for underfunded schools. After-school programs, which can more easily adapt to the continuously changing digital landscape, are often faced with geographic or financial barriers to entry.
Introducing: the Digital Literacy + Coding Pilot
With this in mind, we have convened a broad range of partners to launch the Digital Literacy + Coding Pilot. The goal of this pilot is to test an accessible, scalable, model for delivering digital literacy programming across Ontario to ensure that all youth gain access to this critical 21st century skill.
Currently in the prototyping phase, project partners have co-created a multi-week program for participants aged 12 to 15, focusing on youth from backgrounds underrepresented in STEM fields. We’re testing this program in late spring 2017 in preparation to launch at six to 10 sites this fall.
The Digital Literacy + Coding Pilot is designed to help bridge the gap between youth from underrepresented groups and the digital skills that are critical to their economic participation by:
- Partnering with community organizations represented in the majority of Ontarian communities;
- Working alongside the formal education system to help inform future curriculum decisions;
- Focusing on the needs of those currently underserved by existing digital skills programs;
- Placing an emphasis on coding as an entry point to a broader set of digital competencies, like problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
Over the course of two years, eight cohorts of participants – up to two thousand youth – will cycle through the pilot, gaining skills needed to thrive in the new economy. Our role throughout will be to test, evaluate and iterate this new model for delivering digital literacy across Ontario for the benefit of all youth, regardless of background.
As Canada continues to build an innovation economy, it will be increasingly important to ensure all Canadians benefit.
The Digital Literacy + Coding Pilot is just one example of a solution to ensuring innovation and inclusive economic growth go hand in hand. But we’ll certainly need more than just one. Many people and many hands make light work. We look forward to working with partners across all industries and sectors to design creative solutions, together.
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