Why we should teach kids to code

Peter Mason

Peter is Support and Engagement manager at Planet Sherston. A long-time computer enthusiast, Peter enjoys tinkering with Linux and PC hardware. He can juggle fire, knives and other less dangerous projectiles without maiming himself or others (so far).

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Website: www.planetsherston.com Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Given how coding has ruled the headlines in recent months, most teachers are discussing the pros and cons of the matter. Peter Mason, an avid computing enthusiast, discusses why he considers the changes to be positive.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past year, you won’t have missed the changes to the National Curriculum that are taking place. These changes include a controversial shift in focus from ICT to computing. Starting from September this year, the National Curriculum will emphasise on empowering pupils to be the next generation of creators - not just passive consumers. The means to achieving this is teaching children to code.

The controversy hasn't stopped at the National Curriculum. The Government has recently put its weight behind the Year of Code campaign, with a launch that appears to have been criticised by everyone from educators to businesses. Myths abound on what programming is and isn't at the moment, but one fact is that computer programming isn't for everyone, just like art isn’t. There are, however, some great reasons to teach kids to code.

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.

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