The Rise of Digital Literacy in Montreal

Whether you’re comfortable with it or not, you’re living in an increasingly digital world: one where businesses are no longer brick and mortar, where customer-care lines frequently refer you to their companies’ websites (through automated messages, of course). In-person services are a novelty and, for better or worse, phone books are all but extinct. This surge in the significance of our digital industry has prompted a call for new forms of education ─ a call that has, until recently, gone unanswered in Montreal.

The dramatic shift towards a digital economy, especially through web-based platforms, brings with it a whole new language. Coding is becoming an increasingly essential skill set, as companies worldwide are either expanding the amount of business they do online or choosing to exist online entirely. Canadian businesses are no exception; in this year’s PROFIT 500 list of Canada’s fastest growing companies, Profitguide found that “IT providers and software developers comprise nearly a quarter of the firms in this year’s ranking.”

Considering the startup-friendly nature of Montreal, it’s no surprise that our city has been trying to catch up with the growing demand for good developers. In comparison to other cities in Canada, our digital education initiatives have gotten a late start; Toronto, on the other hand, already has well-established coding schools such as Bitmaker labs and HackerYou in place.

Nevertheless, digital literacy in Montreal has been on the rise as of late, thanks to a few key initiatives. Ladies Learning Code, for example, opened a Montreal chapter just over a year ago. Originally based in Toronto, their non-profit organization is now a Canada-wide project that gives women (men are welcome, too) the opportunity to learn entry-level computer programming, coding and more through communal workshops. According to Techvibes, 5000 Canadians had already attended a Ladies Learning Code workshop before they’d even opened their Montreal branch.

Image by Jon Lim.
Image by Jon Lim.

Another program to join the ranks of Montreal’s coding education opportunities is DecodeMTL: an eight-week intensive course that teaches front-end web development. Helping students build “beautifully crafted and well coded” websites, the program’s curriculum includes HTML, CSS, and javascript training. Its first round of courses actually starts at the end of this month, running from October 27th to December 15th, and a DecodeMTL info session will be held this Thursday evening at La Commune.

While education opportunities in this field are slowly improving for adults, Montreal’s attempt to embrace new forms of education is most evident in the recent attempts to change school curriculums. Back in January, the Montreal Gazette reported on the efforts of Kids Code Jeunesse: a non-profit organization that teaches computer programming and coding to elementary school students, starting from as young as seven.

While countries like Estonia and England have successfully implemented computer science in their elementary schools’ curriculums, Kids Code Jeunesse’s founder Gersande La Flèche noted that Quebec’s public schools typically offer computer-science programs only in later grades. However, reactions to her efforts have been positive and Kids Code Jeunesse is currently trying to secure governmental funding. The most effective way to increase digital literacy is to start educating kids at a young age, La Flèche told The Gazette. “For it to be really accessible, and for a lot of people to get introduced to it, it has to be in the elementary school system because that’s the only thing we have that can level the playing field.”

As the digital industry becomes an increasingly important component of Canada’s economy, new forms of education will only become more vital. Although Montreal certainly arrived late to the coding party, these new initiatives are a promising step in the right direction.

Featured image by Gavin St. Ours.