Canada's Condominium Magazine

Canada falling behind in IT due to slow broadband, lack of coding in schools

Too many Canadian companies are not equipped to compete in the digital economy because of lack of access to high-speed Internet and a shortage of skilled workers in the IT sector. The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) says in a new report, From Broadband Access to Smart Economies, that Canada is falling behind the rest of the world, earning just a C grade from the Conference Board of Canada, in building critical infrastructure, in R&D investment, and in commercialization of new products. While Canada has seen “minor improvements” in connectivity, other countries have “leapfrogged” ahead in recent years. More worrying, there are even signs of “incremental and persistent declines” in some aspects of Canada’s capacity for innovation.

CIRA recently conducted an analysis of 126,000 speed tests done by Canadian Internet users and found that the national average download speed was 18.63 Mbps. While this is well above the target of 5 Mbps set by the government in 2014, it is well below the standard of 25 Mbps now widely used in OECD countries.

One question being asked now is whether the lack of broadband access is actually contributing to the IT skills shortage reported by 40 per cent of businesses that depend on recruiting skilled workers to compete internationally. In fact, more than half of Canadian tech companies say finding the right workers with the right skills is the most important factor in their ability to compete.

Support for idea that coding should be taught in schools

What does emerge from a new CIRA survey of Internet users is strong support (60 per cent) for the idea that all Canadians need to be taught IT skills from a young age. Among IT decision makers the support is even stronger: 88 per cent of this group believe coding should be part of the core secondary school curriculum.

The BC government announced last January that it would make coding available to all students in the province from kindergarten to grade twelve. Ontario said at the same time that it was not planning to change its curricula at the time, though coding is available in some curricula in the province. The usual practice in Ontario is to teach coding from grades ten to twelve in computer courses, but, according to some reports, only about one-third of schools offer a computer course.

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Source: CIRA

England, on the other hand, has implemented a policy of mandatory computer science in all primary and secondary schools. A similar trend is emerging in many countries, with coding increasingly being seen as a “core” subject, an essential skill for the “new literacy.” More and more educators and employers see the ability to code as the divider between those who merely use computer applications and those who know how to create them. The jobs and opportunities are there for the latter group. It’s the students with the tech background who create the new businesses, say tech advocates. One of these, an Oshawa native who now works for Google in Oregon and who has known firsthand how layoffs in the auto sector hurt the local economy, told CBC news that this was what happened when students were trained “for the jobs of the past and not the jobs of the future.”

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The president of Ottawa-based Shopify, one of Canada’s more successful start-ups, summed up the present-day reality for businesses. Tobi Lutki said that the reason why almost all entrepreneurs are “techies” these days is simple: “they are the only ones that can teach computers new things.” Lutki, quoted in the Globe and Mail, said that every company in the world today “is either turning into a software company or is in the process of dying because of a software company.” This situation is entirely unnecessary, he said, because computer programming “is not hard and it is a whole lot of fun.”

To meet the growing need for programmers, a number of so-called coding “bootcamps” have opened in Toronto in the past few years, offering courses in web design and development with standard coding languages such as HTML, CSS, Java Script, UNIX and Rails. These courses typically cost from $2,500 to $9,000. These course providers typically claim very high success rates of 90–100 per cent for their graduates in finding IT jobs, though potential applicants are advised to do some homework before paying that kind of money. The private coding school sector is largely unregulated.

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