Coding for Kids

Shortage of qualified programmers prompting efforts to train the new generation

Whether we ethically agree with this trend or not, computer code continues to permeate the fabric of our lives – during our daily commute, at the office, at the restaurant, at the gym, at home. Smart devices, mobile apps, the Internet of Things, facial-, finger- and voice-recognition technology, virtual assistants, fitness and health trackers, robots and data-driven algorithms fuel seemingly simple tasks like logging into fitness machines which store our training plans and fitness goals, or starting our cars remotely. In an unprecedented culture shift, we have become largely dependent on devices and machines to help us run things at any given time during the day or night.

The smooth operation of all these gadgets, however, requires the software used to control them to be simply flawless. Although AI and robots have long been touted to eventually replace the job of programmers, we are nowhere near that day and until then, we are, for the most part, reliant on human brainpower for getting all this work done.

Worldwide skills shortage

It’s no secret that the fourth industrial revolution – the digital one – has left us needing many more computer science professionals than most nations’ education systems are capable of producing on a short notice. As a result, campaigns aiming to recruit more women into technology have sprouted all over the globe – and still, supply can’t keep up with demand. Next, companies and schools started looking at the root cause of the problem – the lack of access to programming, the fact that it is intimidating to many, or simply the lack of understanding or appropriate resources to help convince young men and women to consider careers in creating computer code. If we helped them learn more about programming from an early age, gave them the help and the resources they need and made it fun, educational and engaging, perhaps we’d be looking at different statistics in 10 years’ time.

Why coding for kids?

Despite the widely known shortage of qualified labour, learning to code from a young age has measurable benefits for those who engage it in, building confidence, boosting creativity and analytical thinking, driving innovation, and translating into success in other areas. Proponents say that learning to code is similar to learning a new language – a feat best accomplished when brains are young and more susceptible to being re-wired.

But kids should be kids!

On the other side of the issue stand opponents who don’t agree that kids should start programming early, leading to a certain degree of controversy surrounding the topic. Parents and educators who aren’t in favour of teaching children programming skills are concerned about the latter replacing essential soft skills that children need to succeed, or not providing them with enough free time to ‘’just be children.’’ Whether you’re inclined to side with them or not, one thing is certain – by engaging in mentally challenging activities from the start, children have the opportunity to learn vital problem-tackling skills that could come in handy throughout their lives.

Where can kids learn to code?

Through platforms like Tynker for Android or Apple tables, youngsters today are able to gradually acquire valuable programming skills by engaging in problem-solving games and structured approaches to getting goals met. Other examples of tools offering little ones opportunities to get into programming include Gamestar Mechanic, Move the Turtle, Cargo Bot and Bitsbox. It’s certainly best if your child tries a few learn-to-code tools and games until they find their favourite one to use, and it’s also important that they often progress onto more challenging levels or tools as they become more proficient at this way of thinking.

Tech giants on board

Admittedly, the tech giants of Silicon Valley are the biggest beneficiaries of an increased number of programmer cohorts globally, as they employ them by the thousands and can never have enough on staff. Recognising this means they are also the most vivid proponents of teaching kids the skills from an early age, developing custom educational programming languages and aiming to teach the ways of approaching and solving problems first, before getting technical with their youngest customers.

Google

On December 4th, 2017 the daily Google Doodle celebrated 50 years of teaching kids to code, an initiative that isn’t new and first started when the educational programming language Logo was introduced. The doodle was essentially a bunny game based on the programming language Scratch, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 2000s.

Apple

To mark the annual Computer Science Education (CSE) week from December 4 – 10, 2017, Apple organised Hour of Code events around the world, where you can master the basics of coding, code with Swift (the custom language created by Apple) and program robots. The events are open to kids, adults, beginners and experienced developers. They’ve also built a variety of apps to help you learn to code with Swift in a fun way, and offer digital creativity camps for kids aged 8 – 12, where they can immerse themselves in one of three different tracks.

Microsoft

Microsoft has been teaching kids coding concepts since the introduction of its game Minecraft. They now also offer free YouthSpark programmes through their stores, where ‘’kids code, create and play.” The giant didn’t fall behind Google and Apple and also provides free coding tools and games to its youngest fans.

Coding for adults

It isn’t completely reasonable to assume that all or most children who were exposed to the concept of creating computer code when they were young will embrace a lifelong love of code and choose to further their education and career in related fields, like computer engineering, computer science, information systems, data science, and the like. They might simply hate it, or they might find that they prefer working in a more creative and less technical field.

The goal of providing children the tools to look into programming isn’t to pre-determine their entire lives and careers at the age of eight – rather, the aim is to equip them with the knowledge and skills that would help them excel in other areas and fields, (coding aptitude has been linked to enhanced performance in subjects like math, science and even music), as well as give them the confidence to learn coding professionally, if so they choose.

Copywriter: Ina Danova

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