Coding and Computer Programming Education
May 31, 2021
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by Arabella Seebaluck

To code or not to code, is that even a question?

I am going to write this from a totally non-tech perspective. The only thing I remember from my own coding and computer programming classes in 1990 being a 5 and ½” floppy disk and a teacher who was pretty bad at explaining anything beyond us writing the C prompt.

But why am I a parent who is dead intent is to have her child get into coding and learn it like he would be learning Mandarin or Spanish? I think the answer lies with the buzz. It’s like cryptocurrency, bitcoin and even dogecoin. Everyone is talking about it. But it’s not like the streaming of the Friends, The Reunion… it’s not part of the 24-hour news cycle that will go away once a new show is aired. This is about the future. The future of our children. And when you’re a parent, there’s nothing more important.

Western countries understood this before many other nations. As early as the 2010s, many of those started adding coding to school curricula. The table above is from a study that examines the trends in the European bloc. Estonia though not on top in this study, had introduced children aged 7 and above to programming languages as far back as in 2012. In 2014, journalist Beth Gardiner noted this in the New York Times:

“In Estonia, widely regarded as one of Europe’s technology-savvy societies, raising computer literacy even higher is a top national priority. Before becoming technology skills coordinator at the country’s Ministry of Economic Affairs, Ave Lauringson led ProgeTiiger, a project training schoolteachers to engage pupils with programming and other high-tech areas.”

The benefits, for countries following into the footsteps of Estonia she adds, are numerous:

“Such knowledge, the advocates say, is important not only to individual students’ future career prospects, but also for their countries’ economic competitiveness and the technology industry’s ability to find qualified workers.

Exposing students to coding from an early age helps to demystify an area that can be intimidating. It also breaks down stereotypes of computer scientists as boring geeks, supporters argue. Plus, they say, programming is highly creative: Studying it can help to develop problem-solving abilities, as well as equip students for a world transformed by technology.”

Demystifying coding

Perhaps this is the key to flipping the light switch on coding in the 21st century. Coding and computer programming aren’t for geeks and more and more leaders around the world are starting to understand that it’s contemporary basic literacy – like reading and writing were in the 20th century.

Online courses and apps have mushroomed since parents started understanding that programming is as valuable as learning a foreign language, sport or how to play a musical instrument. The Learning Resources Blog lists five reasons that support learning a computer language at a very young age:

  1. It is another language. So if you’re thinking Mandarin or Hindi to catch up with emerging economic giants on the global scene, coding is another option to consider.
  2. It encourages creativity.
  3. It helps kids with math skills.
  4. It improves writing skills.
  5. It fosters problem-solving abilities.

Yet, a survey of American parents shows only 26% consider coding and computer programming languages as a desired skill. Engineering is their top choice at 31%, while foreign language skills come on the 3rd step of the podium with 22%.

Another study conducted on coding skills in particular, however, indicates that:

  • 77% of American parents wish they had learned how to code while they were still in school.
  • 63% of American parents think schools should teach programming of some sort as part of the core curriculum
  • 73% of American parents say they would rather their child learn to code than learn a foreign language.
  • 79% of parents want their child to learn how to code primarily so they can be an informed internet citizen

[Source: CodeWizardsHQ – Kids Online Statistics for 2020]

The way forward

In 2015, a report said that by 2020, Europe would have “a shortage of 800,000 professionals with computing skills.” We’re in 2021, and the situation is as predicted. Youpal Group’s owner, co-founder and CTO Ruben Teijeiro told us:

“…there is a lack of consultants, of developers, of project managers or designers. What’s more, there are new roles popping up each day. These can’t even be filled because fitting training programmes or courses don’t even exist yet in educational institutions.”

This why other nations across the world are starting to wake up to the need of creating more computer and code-literate individuals for the present and future needs. Asia, who has long spearheaded technology, is catching on:

“Due to their strength in the ICT industry, countries such as Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China have launched national curricular reforms to address the current movement of CT [Computational Thinking] education in K-12 education.”

India also launched a revisited National Education Policy in 2020, whereby children aged 11 and above would be introduced to coding and computer programming. This would add to “concerted curricular and pedagogical initiatives, including the introduction of contemporary subjects such as Artificial Intelligence…”

The ‘green field of opportunity’

Coding isn’t for the privileged few anymore. In fact, it’s not even something that you need to be a genius to learn, according Youpal Group owner, co-founder and CEO Karl Leahlander:

“Nowadays, to be able to code, a person only needs reading, writing and mathematics. Progressing from single-finger tapping code to moving across your keyboard like on a piano can be achieved quite rapidly. Even though not everyone will end up being a coding prodigy, they will be comparatively as qualified as those who were judged proficient enough to handle machinery in the factories of the industrial period.”

For him, it’s a way forward in parts of the world, such as West Africa, where entire societies can be uplifted through the powers of programming and computer literacy in general – as has been the case with India and China, and as it was in post-World-War-II times.

“Just as those children brought up during the full industrialisation era, when their parents earned enough for food and shelter, children today growing up in the true digitalisation area will have these same chances. They will have the opportunity to dream big, thinking less of survival and more of what they want to become in the future…”

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