Why should coding be taught to children?
Two years ago, I was invited to speak at a big event on why coding should be taught to children and young people, here are some ideas that are as valid today as they were back then.
So why is it important?
I will use as an example the teaching of languages. Languages were once taught to the whole school-age group, because the world was seen as increasingly becoming international, in such a way that it will no longer be possible to cope in future daily tasks without some further language skills. Not so long ago, we lived in a time in which adults had to use the services of a translator or interpreter if they needed to communicate in a foreign language.
Nowadays English language skills are needed in almost every profession. It is very likely that our colleagues and clients are international. In other words, even if your working language is not English it is likely that, you need to know it or you will probably find yourself in a challenging work situation. If you are in Finland or other countries in which English is not the main language, you may encounter yourself in this kind of situations, even more often than not. On the other hand, as a native English speaker, you may find these kind of challenges when traveling or living abroad, and face the need to learn a little bit of the local language.
As with languages, learning to communicate with computers, is becoming increasingly important. The world is rapidly digitalizing, and in the future, there will be an entire generation that will attend school and will have the need to efficiently communicate with computers.
A large number of today’s adults do not master this skill and so they need to purchase services from software professionals/ providers. For example, even small entrepreneurs need to use e-commerce, update their websites or manage appointments and online advertising. It also should look great and be cost and time effective, however how can they manage if neither them or their employees have any programming skills?
Another example I use is that many of us think that cleaning, cooking, or doing house chores are basic skills that children need to be taught so that they can do them themselves, even though everything can also be bought ready-made or as a service. When it comes to these type of things, we think that by doing it ourselves, we save money and get a result that we are satisfied with.
The same goes for programming. That is, if we know how to program, we can find ourselves the software solutions we need for free. What could those solutions be? Well, for example, home automation, a website related to our interests, or even job searching. A client asked me to code for him a fun multiple-choice survey for job search purposes. If he have had basic web programming skills, he could have done it himself and even been able to update it and tailor it for future searches.
And of course, not everything needs to be justified from a perspective of how beneficial it is or not, but, just like reading or exercising, programming is a fun activity to do as a hobby, especially when there’s not a schedule pressure to get anything done.
Challenging your own mind is wonderfully addictive and it’s hard to get your hands out of the code until the program’s core has been built. The end result of such a fun programming project can then even be a robot or game coded together with friends.
Going back to the topic, since a few years back, programming is part of the curricula in elementary school in Finland and children learn it at school and some also have it as a hobby. Finland’s education system is one of the best in the world and it includes programming, so should other countries follow the same example?
In a not too distant future, it seems likely that many more university courses will need programming skills as a requirement and that programming will be considered as general knowledge for future generations, just as it is given that children have tried a cooking, singing or music class.
These are fast changing times, in which standards and requirements get updated all the time, technology and innovation set up the pace and it may be that in the future, job advertisements will require applicants to have programming skills, as they today request language skills.
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