With the rise of the digital economy, there is a growing global need for a digitally upskilled workforce. Coding in particular has become a focus for the UAE’s leadership, with the launch of programmes such as the annual One Million Arab Coders initiative that was introduced in 2017 under the Dubai Future Foundation.

This emphasis is only building ahead of Expo 2020 Dubai, with its theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. This is resulting in efforts such as the 2020 Hours of Code initiative organised by Accenture to deliver 2,020 hours of coding tutorials to UAE primary school students under the Expo School Programme.

Pointing to the invaluable critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that coding tuition can instil in students, regardless of their career interests, Gerardo Canta, communications, media and technology lead at Accenture Middle East, explains the importance of coding within a modern educational curriculum.

Why is it important that young people have the opportunity to learn coding in today’s economy?

Software and computers are impacting every part of our lives. Today, computer science is foundational for every 21st-century student. Regardless of what our students do when they grow up, whether they go into business, politics, medical fields or the arts, knowing how to build technology will give them the confidence and know-how that they need to succeed.

In school today, every child should learn about algorithms, how to make an app or how the internet works, just like they learn about photosynthesis or electricity. By learning to code, children start to gain an understanding of how humans and technology work together, which is an essential lesson when preparing for the future.

Through programmes such as 2020 Hours of Code, we give students an opportunity to learn computer science, which provides a critical foundation for success in any 21st-century career path.

Why is it advantageous to introduce children to coding in primary school?

Research shows that kids can begin to pick up programming concepts before they know how to read and write. Younger children are naturally more inclined to be curious. By targeting primary school students, we can nurture and help shape this curiosity, while giving them a head start. If they are introduced to programming at a young age, they are more likely to study it later on. Consider that:

  • 90 per cent of parents want their child to learn computer science, but only 35 per cent of schools teach it;
  • Out of all new mathematics, science and technology jobs, 58 per cent are in computing;
  • There are nearly 571,000 open computing jobs across the US, but only 49,000 computer science students graduated into the workforce last year.

Gone are the days when digital skills were only for digital jobs. Reports show that, as of 2020, 90 per cent of jobs will require digital skills. This means that to be employable in the coming years, students must be digitally literate. However, the level of literacy required will depend on the field of work. Software developers will naturally need to be very digitally proficient, but nurses and security guards will also be required to work with technology that will make their jobs easier and more efficient.

What is Accenture doing on an international level to encourage the teaching of coding skills worldwide?

Accenture has partnered with the non-profit organisation Code.org for four consecutive years as part of the global Hours of Code initiative. In all, our employees in more than 200 cities in 55 countries have pledged to complete more than 10,000 hours of coding, and we have now expanded our coding tutorial to help students to better understand the uses of artificial intelligence.

In the UAE, Accenture regularly teams up with schools as part of its global educational movement to inspire and expand the opportunities for students to learn coding and computer science skills.

We believe that every student, in every classroom, in every country should have the opportunity to learn to code and to discover how these skills apply not only to traditional IT jobs, but to more creative vocations as well.

This year, nearly 2,500 Accenture employees have committed to teach an hour of coding at local events in their communities during Computer Science Education Week in December – with the aim of inspiring more than 100,000 students around the world to learn coding and computer science skills.

Why are schemes such as 2020 Hours of Code and One Million Arab Coders so important?

Both the private and public sectors have a responsibility to ensure that our youth is prepared to meet the demands of the future. The region is ripe with talented and innovative young people who have the potential to have a real-world impact. However, they cannot achieve this on their own. They need the right government and private sector programmes to provide the extra-curricular support that is critical in our rapidly changing world.

The UAE acknowledged the importance of coding with the launch of the One Million Arab Coders initiative by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai. A talented and skilled workforce is, and will continue to be, fundamental to achieving the UAE’s ambitious visions.

We believe that the UAE holds incredible potential. While most governments are just beginning to embrace the important role of technology and digitalisation, the UAE is one step ahead, having understood that in order to overcome the challenges of the future, strong programmes such as One Million Arab Coders must be put in place.

About the author

Gerado Canta is the managing director of Accenture’s communications, media and technology practice in the Middle East, Africa, Russia and Turkey