Why Every Child Should Learn to Program a Computer…

Like many British schoolchildren, I studied a variety of subjects at school. Mathematics, natural sciences, history, drama, music, technology and physical education. Not to mention the language subjects – as a minimum, English language, English literature plus one foreign language of your choosing from a selection of French, German, Spanish or Latin.

I chose French and, after five years of studious learning, came out of the education system aged 16 none the wiser in terms of truly grasping a foreign language. Perhaps it was that foreign languages weren’t my forte. Perhaps speaking French looked much easier on ‘Allo ‘Allo – whatever the reason, I just didn’t seem to be as enthused about French as I was about other more vocational subjects like technology.

Technology itself plays host to a whole raft of languages – some more complex than others (you’ve probably used one or more of these languages without ever realising it). These languages form the basis of every electronic programme, software, game, or platform. These are known as the ‘programming languages’ and, like any other language, it takes time, dedication, hard work and practise to really gasp it. The real question here though – are programming languages given the same standing as human languages, and should they? Who’s to say that a second language taught in school shouldn’t be Java, Python, C++ or SQL?

Its seems more likely that, as electronics becomes more ‘accessible’ to the masses, we may in fact see a U-turn back to the days when coding becomes a fundamental tool for a great many more people in a great many more avenues of modern industry.

The future of humanity is only going in one direction – towards a more integrated, electronics-based world where applications shall be synonymous with everyday life and where people will use highly technical, functionally simple, user friendly programs on an ever more frequent basis than at present. With this in mind it is not difficult to imagine that, based on the current pace of technological change, the number of career opportunities within the electronics and software industries will increase to meet this new demand.

And where, I hear you ask, will they source these future opportunities?

To put it into perspective, China has already made computer science a compulsory module, which must be passed at high school level in order to graduate. This means that every child, regardless of background, upbringing, household income or privilege,  has the ability to perform some basic coding functions by the time they’re ready to enter the working world.

The western world cannot blame its Chinese partners for seizing this invaluable opportunity; a vast proportion of Asian business is already fed from the electronics industry in some form or another. What really holds Europe and the US back is the ability to see the waves of change coming our way and making sure we’re right alongside the Far Eastern nations when it comes to adapting to the ever changing world by planning ahead, even with education in schools.

Things are improving; nowadays many schools have changed the standard ICT classes into comprehensive programming classes, teaching children the ideas behind sequential code. Although this is a step in the right direction there is still a lot more that needs to be done. Coding needs to become a fundamental ‘play and learn’ tool from an early age; and with systems like Lego Mindstorm and countless Kickstarter projects, there is no excuse why children should not be engaged in this way.

I remember my parents first computer. The screen had a green backlight and it performed a basic word processing function that would print onto large reels of paper. You had to have a basic grasp of computer coding just to print anything out. I can remember my first ‘football manager’ game, which had to be accessed via DOS. Coding wasn’t just something that happened behind the scenes, it was something that the user was expected to engage in. Its seems more likely that, as electronics becomes more ‘accessible’ to the masses, we may in fact see a U-turn back to the days when coding becomes a fundamental tool for a great many more people in a great many more avenues of modern industry.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; learning to use code improves the way you think about problems, it develops your personal ability to think in a logical manner and examine problems far more laterally.
Granted, there are other ways that may teach children these thought processes, but the beauty of using computer programming is that it remains relevant. If ever the teaching material becomes out of date, there is an immediate replacement to migrate onto; the level of coding would evolve with the evolution of the programming industry.

This isn’t just about making sure all young people are prepared for the innovative and ever-changing world which we inhabit; it’s more about making sure that every young person has the opportunity to experience the foundations of every avenue of opportunity that the education system can afford them. Every educational system should afford its students a thorough understanding of programming methods. Learning to code would not only provide each child the gift of a brilliant and valued skill, it would provide society with generations of young code-aware thinkers, with the ability to design in a dimension used by everyone.

 

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