Quantumania is Here: Why Schools Need to Grow the Quantum Workforce Now

21 September 2023

No Pym particles are needed to enter this Quantum Realm.

Quantum technology and quantum computing (QC) are rapidly emerging fields with the potential to revolutionise many industries, including medicine, materials science, and finance. As these technologies become more mature, it is increasingly important to prepare students for the opportunities and challenges that they present. Quantum education can help students develop the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in the quantum economy.

What is quantum technology and computing?

Quantum technologies exploit the properties identified by quantum physics to provide new capabilities in computing, communications, and sensing. Computing specifically has garnered the most attention in recent years.

Quantum computing (QC) is a new approach to problem-solving and calculations that is poised to take computing to a whole new level. Put simply, to solve a problem with multiple variables, classical computers can only manage each calculation with a single path to a single result, which means repeating the process multiple times before a conclusive result. On the other hand, quantum computers have a large working capacity and can explore many paths simultaneously, working faster to solve certain complex problems than classical ones.

In 2019, Google solved a complex problem with a quantum computer in 200 seconds where it would have taken a classical computer 10,000 years to produce the same result. But not without controversy, typical of an emerging realm of study in any area. Still in its development stages, QC continues to be a volatile environment with new innovations and challenges.

But what does it mean for the real world?

Quantum has the potential to change the way we conduct research, manufacture, secure and more. Imagine improved GPS accuracy, plan navigation, driverless cars, secure communications systems, and more accurate medical imaging.

For science research, simulation capabilities are going to shrink development time, bringing us closer to new cures, and new drugs. This also saves resources and materials as trials are now done on a computer instead.

Artificial intelligence might just get smarter. Better capabilities to take on multiple complex calculations mean better algorithms that could transform machine learning.

Threat incoming? Today’s encryption efforts rely on large, complex, prime numbers as their basis. QC will be able to use algorithms to solve these complex prime numbers easily, therefore unlocking these encryptions. In the future, once QCs are more developed, we’re going to need more sophisticated encryption methods to shore up cybersecurity measures.

But Houston, we might have a problem…

According to a study by McKinsey, currently, there is only one qualified quantum candidate for every three job openings. Based on today’s predictions, by 2025, less than 50% of QC jobs will be filled unless there are significant changes to the talent pool.

“Currently quantum computer[ing] is a very, let’s say, immature field. But it’s developing very, very, rapidly. And that creates a sort of workforce gap in the sense we don’t really have a quantum workforce equipped to develop the technologies that we would need in the near time” notes Christian Kraglund Andersen, Assistant Professor, QuTech, TU Delft, The Netherlands.

Beyond coding, Quantum is going full STEAM ahead.

The White House Office of Science and Technology and the National Science Foundation launched the National Q-12 Education Partnership, an effort that sees government, industry, professional societies and the education community come together to grow quantum capabilities.

Although more popular now, computer science and coding had a slow rise in K-12 STEM/STEAM curriculums. It takes time for new subjects to gain a foothold in curriculums, especially those of public schools. We need teachers equipped with the right knowledge to teach concepts and use cases. We need standardised topics and theories digestible for schools.

A key development of the National Q-12 Education Partnership is the creation of the K-12 quantum education framework, a detailed route towards including quantum topics in K-12 physics, chemistry, computer science, and mathematics classes. Nurturing interest in the field of study early on helps spur and encourage further learning once students move into higher education.  

In Taiwan, the Taipei City Government are in the midst of issuing quantum computer science teaching materials to high schools and vocational high schools along with career training to encourage interest in the subject matter.

“We also find that getting quantum education into K-12 schools can have a huge impact on increasing the diversity of quantum talent, especially if we can prioritise schools in underserved populations” says IBM Quantum’s Bradley Holt when asked about the challenge of talent diversity.

A Quantum-ready workforce

Taking on quantum requires a multi-varied skillset. “You need to know some physics. If you want to develop quantum computers, you also need to know some computer science, you need to know some engineering if you want to build quantum computers” explains Andersen.

This multi-varied approach has pushed universities to design degrees and master’s programmes specifically for quantum technology and computing. As of 2022, there are only a handful of universities offering dedicated programs. Only 29 of the 176 universities offer master’s degrees in quantum technologies, with the rest being only research programs. This number is projected to grow in the coming years as interest, demand, and funding grow in the subject matter.

Higher Education institutions are also benefitting from industry partnerships to grow their efforts. Barzan Holdings, Qatar’s leading industrial defence provider, committed USD 10 million in grants to Hamad Bin Khalifa University, helping to fund the Qatar Centre for Quantum Computing (QC2). The centre aims to develop impactful research into all areas of quantum, not just computing, but quantum cryptography and quantum AI.

IBM, one of the few companies possessing quantum computers, trained over 350 college interns at all levels of higher education in quantum software, hardware, and research as part of its summer internship program.

Additionally, as the tech is poised to partner with existing digital computers, lifelong learning and reskilling are also key focuses. Institutions that are well-versed in the field have developed short programs for industry professionals to learn more about quantum.

Technical University of Munich in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research Germany created “QL3: Quantum Lifelong Learning” aimed at specialists and managers. Delft University’s Quantum Research Institute in the Netherlands launched the School of Quantum, aimed at collating and providing user-friendly access to quantum knowledge from universities or institutes from all around the world.

We need to make the world quantum-ready today by focusing on education and workforce development

Alessandro Curioni, IBM

Quantum computing and technologies are growing, and they are growing fast. Although it won’t be tomorrow, educational institutions can simply plant the seed early in K-12 curriculums and grow interest in the field. Universities can seize the chance to produce graduates and contribute to the growth of quantum use in a soon-to-be quantum economy.

By supporting QC education and research, education can play a vital role in ensuring that QC reaches its full potential and benefits society as a whole.

QC is a powerful new technology that has the potential to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems. By investing in quantum computing education, we can ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn about this technology and to contribute to its development and application.

But no, Antman and the Quantum Realm are not real. Or are they? 

More Resources
Bookmark This: Quantum Computing Report by Global Quantum Intelligence
Quick Read: How do you teach quantum computing to high schoolers?
Long Watch: Building a Quantum Workforce Requires Interdisciplinary Education and the Promise of Real Jobs

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Hi! I am Edlyn, the Community & Marketing Manager for EDUtech Asia and EDUtech_talks.

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