Understanding how computers are programmed helps us understand the world around us
We live in a world where our radio alarm clock wakes us at half past six in the morning; our electric toothbrush ensures that we brush for a timed two minutes; and our automatic washing machine offers a mind-boggling array of options for how best to wash our clothes. Although it's not vital that we know exactly how each of these devices works, it is important that we have a rough grasp so that we better understand the modern world. Pupils are taught biology, chemistry and physics with a view to understanding various aspects of the world around them; shouldn't we be providing the same quality of education in computing?
In the past decade we've seen massive changes in the world facilitated by the prevalence of social media and the Internet. Looking back ten years, the majority of us were passive consumers of the web, but the rise of wikis, blogging and social media has thrust the majority of us into the position of creator. With this in mind, how important is it that we teach children how to use these technologies safely and responsibly and to appreciate their powerful role in the world that we inhabit?
Coding can give context and make learning exciting
As a child, English was my favourite subject. I really enjoyed reading and writing – just not creative writing. It was around the time I learnt to program that it dawned on me just how well suited the computer was to writing interactive fiction, in the vein of ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books. As an avid consumer of video games and books it was only natural that I wanted to make my own, but not being artistically and musically talented, I simply wasn't ready to produce a multimedia extravaganza.
However, I did have a medium that got me writing creatively. I really struggled with maths as a child. We learn why basic numeracy is important from a young age; we need to be able to add and subtract in order to manage our pocket money. Multiplication and division allow us to decide how many sweets we can buy at the Pick & Mix counter and ensure that we're not getting fleeced when the cake is being cut. Algebra was another matter however – until programming brought me to recognise how it underpins so many things that we do and the way the world around us works.
Coding teaches and reinforces soft skills
Throughout my life working across a range of different jobs, I’ve rarely worked on substantial coding projects, though I call upon the skills that I learnt from programming on a day-to-day basis. Computer programs are executed procedurally, one line at a time and it's this that teaches us to step back from a problem and deconstruct it into component problems before addressing them in a logical order. Furthermore, through programming we discover that a computer in its most basic state is a child that hasn't yet acquired language; in its most sophisticated state, it is a grown up that speaks a different language. It is this that teaches us patience, the ability to translate our thoughts into a different language and through that, see things in different ways and from other perspectives.