22 May 2015

I learnt Latin at school. 

Don’t get me wrong, it does come in handy. But whenever I go overseas I wonder if I would have been better off learning a language people actually speak. 

This week, at Springwood Central Primary, I visited a classroom full of kids learning the language everyone will speak in the 21st Century: coding, the language of computers. 

We all know how quickly kids adapt to new technology; I’ve lost count of the number of times my children have showed me how to download an app. But coding is the difference between kids playing with technology and understanding what makes it tick. 

As one of the students said to me yesterday: “My parents thought I was just playing computer games, until I explained to them what it’s really about.” 

Right now, Springwood Central is one of only eight schools with a “Code Club” in Queensland – and it’s the only government school in the state offering this great opportunity. 

The Springwood Central Code Club was inspired by an email from the local Labor MP, Jim Chalmers. But right now it’s an after-school activity, relying on hardworking teachers putting in extra time as well as competing with sport, music, drama and all the other activities kids love.

A Shorten Labor Government will make sure coding is taught in every primary and secondary school in Australia, as a core part of the normal school day. 

Coding isn’t the end of the story. Just like students need to know how to read and count before they can study literature or algebra, coding will help our kids design new technology, adapt it, create it and, most importantly, use it in the workplaces of the future. 

The good jobs of the future will need new skills. Three out of every four of the fastest growing occupations in Australia will require skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

This doesn’t mean everyone will grow up to be a computer programmer or a professor -it means smarter farming and more advanced manufacturing, new technology used by our plumbers and electricians and new, more efficient ways of doing business.  

Last week, in my Budget reply speech, I outlined Labor’s plan for a smarter Australia over the next five, ten and fifteen years. 

We will provide training for 25,000 current primary and secondary maths, science and IT teachers, scholarships for 25,000 new teachers in those subjects and debt-free degrees for 100,000 science, technology, engineering and maths students. 

At the end of the biggest resource boom in our history, securing a strong economy and maintaining our living standards depends upon investing in our best natural resource: the skills and smarts of the next generation. 

Great schools like Springwood Central are already on the right track, they’re giving our kids the best start at competing for the high-wage, high-skill jobs of the future.

Let’s make this happen in every Australian school, university and TAFE. Let’s start preparing our kids for the jobs of the future.

This opinion piece was first published in The Courier Mail on Friday, 22 May 2015.