Teaching Kids Code
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because if going nerd is the best chance for a job in this country, shouldn’t your kid get the best head start?
By Barbara Fletcher
Would teaching code to our kids at a young age turn our country’s future grads into a well-heeled community of smarty-pants geeks? Probably. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not.
Because being a geek in the 21st century means something different than what we thought in the 1980s — having evolved significantly beyond the stereotype of a slightly condescending, glasses-wearing, socially awkward genius. Now the term has grown to encompass myriad minds that range from the deeply creative, to the altruistic, to the problem-solver to the visionary — qualities that lead to being highly employable.
You might remember back in February seeing a video entitled “What Most Schools Don’t Teach” — close to 11 million people have tuned in to the piece produced by Code.org, an organization committed to growing computer science education in schools. With appearances by tech’s finest minds like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, plus some reinforcement from sports and rock stars, the video urges the need to start teaching kids code in schools.
The video speaks to two audiences: To parents and educators, it stresses the vital importance of starting computer science education early; to kids, the message is that coding is cool – Chris Bosh and will.i.am kind of cool – and it will allow them to become whatever they want to be.
Code.org co-founder Hadi Partovi puts it plainly: “Whether you’re trying to make a lot of money or whether you just want to change the world, computer programming is an incredibly empowering skill to learn.”
And there is a lot of money to be made. According to the video, over the next 10 years, there will be over 1 million computer science jobs left unfilled by qualified graduates; of the 1.4 million jobs available, only 400,000 will have the smarts needed to fill them. As Wired recently reported, demand for software developers is expected to increase 30 percent by 2020 — “more than double the average for all other jobs.” What better reason to start getting our youth well acquainted with the bits and bytes that help to shape almost every minute of our days?
Over the next 10 years, there will be over 1 million computer science jobs left unfilled by qualified graduates…
But back it up a little, you might say. It wasn’t so long ago that teaching kids languages like Spanish and Mandarin became a priority so they’d have a running start toward their inevitable dealings with countries (such as China) that continue to expand globally. Undeniably yes, learning languages at a young age is key, but it can be argued that learning programming skills is even more vital in preparing kids to function — and hopefully excel — in an extremely computer literate world. Face it: These days almost every job is somehow impacted by software or driven by technology.
So why start at kindergarten? Because when we learn how to speak Mandarin or learn key programming concepts as young children, there’s a much better chance of retention. Theories suggest that as 5- and 6-year-olds, we are more adept at creating “procedural” memories — recollections that are so deeply buried in our minds that we recall them involuntarily in a “natural reflex rather than a conscious task.” As we get older our brains gradually switch to “declarative” memory, which relies more on accessing our internal database of facts. So to get our kids on the path to greatness, there’s a limited window of opportunity.
Other nations are figuring this out. Just ask J. Paul Gibson, a computer scientist at the National University of Ireland. In the early 2000s, he channelled his frustration with the inability of 18- and 19-year-olds to understand basic computer science knowledge into creating a program that taught kindergarteners how to write basic programs. Last year in Estonia (birthplace of Skype), ProgeTiiger (Tiger Leap) began pilots with the goal of teaching coding basics to every 6-year-old in school. Also in 2012, in the U.K., Professor John Naughton issued a manifesto demanding that computer science be added to the national curriculum, creating “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prepare our children to play a full part in the world they will inherit.”
Some progress has been made in the U.S. as well. Kids are being taught to re-create the popular video game Frogger at the University of Colorado, and 4-year-old students in Harlem are learning to create robots that do housework. And President Obama has endorsed mandatory coding classes in high school.
For any parents concerned about clogging up their kid’s mind with code clutter, revisit the job stats above and then read these quotes from the nation’s best thinkers, business leaders, sports heroes and artists.
One hundred (wealthy) leaders and trendsetters can’t be wrong.