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Why children should learn to code

Jane Warren takes a look at coding and the technology generation, and why our children should start learning in school.

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Topic: The Team

Technology isn’t a trend. As much as it’s enveloped every part of our lives now, imagine what the world will look like in 20 years. However for those of us born of a different generation, it can be a bit difficult to wrap our heads around exactly what coding is and why it’s become so essential to children’s education. So let’s explore.

Coding and the technology generation

If you’re not familiar, ‘code’ is the broad term that covers many different kinds of computer programming languages, such as HTML and Javascript, used to build software, websites, apps, and similar. Each line of code essentially instructs the computer to do certain tasks, that together make up digital experiences that we use every day. From Microsoft Office, to Netflix, to your iPhone, to the software that runs your car radio or television – each one of these were all coded by a team of programmers.

I know what you’re thinking: While important, these tasks all seem very specialised and still don’t seem to require EVERY child to learn to code. But the thing is, technology is moving too fast – and our children are too. For instance, my colleagues learned how to use Office in school, meanwhile children these days pick up those basics instantly.

This technological revolution has dramatically shifted today’s job market. I certainly didn’t know that I’d have a digital job when I left school, let alone when I was 10. Likewise, we don’t know what jobs our children will be fulfilling in the future, because they haven’t been invented yet. What we do know, is that we need to be forward-thinking.

Learning the A-B-Cs of code

While there aren’t enough skilled classroom teachers to teach coding properly quite yet, there are lots of great apps, websites, and products filling in the gaps while the educational system catches up.

For instance, Barclays Code Playground and BBC’s micro:bit give children easy, accessible introductions to coding. At school, Code Club and other after-school clubs offer younger students a way to learn code outside of the structured classroom curriculum. At home, Scratch, a drag-and-drop visual way for kids to learn code, regularly collaborates with companies like Cartoon Network and Lego to create products that reach childrens’ imaginations. In the instance of Lego, their product WeDo even allows kids to motorise their creations—all using code. The popular game Minecraft also allows the player to programme within the game using Javascript to modify their environment and player commands.

Coding isn’t all fun and games though. Outside of the tangible things students learn to create with technology, they learn soft skills that help them through their lives.

First and foremost, they learn practical problem solving. Unlike a typical homework assignment where you turn it in, and the teacher gives you feedback the next day, when you write a line of code, the feedback is immediate: either the line of code works—or it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, students have to toy with variables to figure out why. This sort of applied learning is intrinsically rewarding for students, because there’s a certain sense of pride you get from the process of trial and error, and eventual success.

Of course, code also teaches computational thinking: Learning how to break down big tasks into smaller, more manageable problems—and let’s be honest, couldn’t we all benefit from that skill a little more?

Coding towards the future

Why does every student have to take English or maths in school, even if they’re not going to become English teachers or mathematicians? Because knowing the basics and concepts around them help us through our every day lives. This is the same principle we need to consider when teaching kids about code. However in a recent government digital study* it was reported that only 70% of the required number of computer science teachers have been recruited and 22% of IT equipment in schools is ineffective. Nicole Blackwood, from the committee commented “We need to make sure tomorrow’s workforce is leaving school or university with the digital skills that employers need” so I hope that with the government appreciating the crucial role digital plays, that the skills and equipment issues in schools will be improved over the coming years.

According to another study by Oxford University & Deloitte*, 35% of UK jobs are at risk of computerisation in the next 20 years – and that’s in addition to those that have already started to move in the way of tech. So by giving students this base knowledge of code, we’re ensuring they’re equipped for their future workplaces, and even helping them gain skills to set up a new service, like say, Click & Invest.

I think we can all agree we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of how technology will eventually integrate yet further into our lives. So let’s not talk about how coding skills aren’t necessary and instead talk about how we’ll prepare students for whatever comes.

* Both studies referenced on the BBC website: ‘UK facing ‘digital skills crisis’ warn MPs’ 13 June 2016, and ‘Will a robot take your job?’ 11 Sept 2015.

Opinions given within this article are my own personal views. My views and opinions are effective from the date of publication but may be subject to change without notice. I have no affiliation with the companies mentioned in this piece and all research has been independent.

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