In 2014, programming was introduced in English schools for children from the age of five and in 2015, Australia followed by adding coding to the new digital technologies curriculum for children from the age of seven and up. Over in the US, code.org aimed for preparing 495,000 new teachers to teach computer science for the grades K-12 by the end of 2016.
Coding or computer programming is the act of using languages to instruct a computer to perform functions and more schools are seeing the importance of teaching this skill to young students all over the world.
Why is this subject currently receiving so much attention and why is it so critical for kids to learn how to code?
The world is controlled by technology
It’s hard to imagine a life without software usage today. When we wake up in the morning we use our digital alarm clock, we make phone calls that are software-controlled, we are constantly connected to a network via our phone or computer, we make road trips based on a digital navigation system, we shop online, download films onto our tablets, we use programmed machines to produce our clothes, interiors, food and other objects. All of the above have been programmed by a developer and since these technologies play such a large role in modern life, we need more people who understand how they work, not only for future job opportunities but also during their current education. Schools are now starting to use devices rather than books as educational tools which makes it crucial that our children know how to operate them.
The COO of Government Relations at Code.org (an organization that primarily helps students in America learn computer science) has announced that computed-oriented jobs are needed four times more than any other profession in the states. In fact, their numbers go as far as stating that America has 530,472 computing occupations available right now including job titles like Software applications developer, Computer systems analyst, Web developer, Computer programmer and Computer systems engineer.
So where did all these available jobs come from? And why aren’t they being filled? The answer is that the IT market is growing faster than we are educating people to manage it. Even though a great deal is being done to introduce computer science subjects into the education system, many teachers are yet to be trained to teach it. The American Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasted that 400,000 students would graduate with a computer science degree in 2015 and by that time, the demand for jobs in the relevant field would be 1.4 million.
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, also recognised that there’s a huge demand in the current market:
Our policy at Facebook is literally to hire as many talented engineers as we can find. There just aren’t enough people who are trained and have these skills today.
Problem solving skills
Coding isn’t hard. Instead, it involves a lot of troubleshooting which is called debugging in coding terms. Debugging is the act of identifying and correcting errors in the code during software or hardware development. This is done by going through the written code carefully via a debugging tool or component of the program used. Sometimes the tool can provide clues on what the error might be related to. The programmer can then use a search engine to find already existing coding examples or documentation that might work well as a solution. In many cases, there are coding snippets on forums that can be put together with their own code in order to find the answers to the error.
This technique doesn’t only teach children how to solve problems in IT, it can also be applied to develop new creative ways of thinking in their professional or personal lives.
Get the parents and companies to understand the importance of teaching kids how to code
In 2016, Google for education released a computer science research study report called Trends in the State of Computer Science in U.S. K-12 Schools. The report results showed that 84% of the parents in the study acknowledged that computer science subjects are required in the primary and secondary education system but only 3 out of 10 parents have expressed it to their children’s schools.
This shows that a lot of parents (and hopefully teachers) are seeing the importance of CS subjects beings introduced into the curriculum but not a lot of them are encouraging schools to bring it on board. One reason might be that they don’t know how or what tools are available on the market even though there are plenty of resources out there.
Students, parents, teachers, and policymakers will benefit greatly by recognizing the foundational importance of coding and computer science in our education curricula.
Former U.S. Congressman, California
Companies are also showing interest in coding possibilities for kids. Earlier this year, Envato became a national partner for Code Like a Girl, an Australian organisation that run several junior workshops every year for girls. The organisation works hard to make coding fun and teach workshops that include creating virtual reality games, coding robots and learning programming languages like HTML and CSS.
There are plenty of affordable ways of bringing coding into the classrooms or even your own home. In fact, the resource libraries available can sometime be a bit daunting to go through since there are so many of them out there. The best way to find what will work for you is to narrow down an age group, budget and level (many kids have already started learning these skills). After that, you can choose from one of the playful and easy-to-learn options below.
As mentioned earlier, code.org is an organization that primarily helps students in America learn computer science. They do this by keeping a library of free coding lessons but also by their Hour of Code events which they hold once a year all over the world in over 30 languages. The events include coding lessons, tutorials and is open for anyone to join or even teach!
Just like the example above, Scratch offers free online tools to teach kids how to code. One their website, children from the age of 8-16 can use a drag and drop system that explains coding terms to give characters instructions. There is also an option to share your creation and to join their online community.
Using a computer isn’t the only way to learn problem solving skills. There are other tools out there that work just as well (sometimes even better). Arduino is one of them. It’s an electronics platform that is controlled by a hardware and software which can easily be coded by children. By managing the boards the programmer can do anything from turning on a light to publish content online.
The robot included in the Lego Mindstorm pack is designed to be controlled by anyone who wants to learn how to code. By using the programmer app, kids can instruct the robot to move, talk and walk or use their creativity to invent new instructions.
Another free tool is Swift Playground. Developed by Apple to be used on an iPad, the app gives the opportunity to solve puzzles and learn the same programming language (Swift) that Apple use to create their own apps.
If you’re a teacher or a parent who want to teach kids how to make their own website, the Envato Tuts+ Web Design for Kids is a great, easy-to-learn resource. The website provides tutorials and lessons that show everything from how the web works to styling with CSS in a fun way.