Should all kids learn to code?

Getting all children to code at school has been something of a cause célèbre for the tech industry for some time now. Many within the technology sector have been banging the drum for coding to feature on the curriculum for years, and it has found advocates from some of the biggest names in business, from Microsoft to Google.

Child learning to code.

In this post, we will discuss just why it is that so many people are adamant that children should be learning to code. Why is it necessary? What are the advantages? And, we will answer the all-important question: Should all children learn to code?

The skills children need for the future.

From a practical point of view, there is a simple reason why so many businesses are keen on coding being on the school curriculum. In many territories all over the world, business leaders continually complain of there being a skills gap. In some countries, such as the UK, tech companies state that there aren’t enough graduates coming through the system who are qualified enough to fill all the available jobs.

There’s also another often mentioned point to consider. Technology is developing at such a rate that the jobs that the children who have just started school will eventually undertake when they join the workplace haven’t even been created yet. This creates a good deal of uncertainty about what the future might entail; but one thing that is certain is that a skill such as coding is bound to become all the more important in the coming years. So, as a way of addressing of the future skills gap, and as a way of equipping today’s children with the skills they will need to thrive in the workplace of tomorrow, learning to code at school seems to make a lot of sense.

And that is really the essential point. Education should be about developing a child’s skills and qualities; helping them to realise their potential. Academic results is one part of that. Preparing children for the workplace is another – coding can do both.

Move kids from being users to creators!

This isn’t a view that everybody would subscribe to, but it is one that is shared by many. There is an argument to suggest that ICT teaching in schools has been holding children back because it focuses almost entirely on computer literacy. We teach kids to word-process, to work a spreadsheet or to produce a PowerPoint presentation – all worthwhile skills, of course, but functional at best.

The new focus on computer science develops a digital literacy which includes teaching kids how to code. It enables children to create their own programs rather than just use those that have been made for them to use. It goes beyond an understanding how to work on a computer, it takes children to a different level – how a computer works and how to make it work for them.

Learning to code teaches computational thinking.

Computational thinking involves looking at a complex problem and breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems. It is by addressing these smaller problems that a logical and methodical solution to the original complex problem, usually by programming a computer to do so.

Whilst you might think that computational thinking is a skill used only by those working within computer science, this is far from the case. Thinking like a computer scientist brings many benefits to daily life. In essence, applying computational thinking means identifying a problem and arriving at an agreeable solution, by approaching the problem from a logical perspective.

Computational thinking also requires the ability to articulate the problem and the solution.
By breaking down what is happening into manageable chunks, children are able to predict what will happen, in the same way that an engineer looks at how something is constructed. It stands to reason that problem solving and being able to articulate ideas and thinking are key transferable skills.

Coding encourages creativity.

Far removed from the stereotypical image that some people might have of a geeky program developer, coding is actually a fantastic way to boost a child’s creativity. Teaching coding might be, in part, about filling job roles of the future, but it doesn’t mean that educators are trying to push all children into careers as developers. Coding gives a grounding in logic and reasoning, but those are the building blocks that just pave the way for a world of opportunity and creativity.

Children should learn to code… to give them confidence.

Children learn better and faster than adults. When you are young, you also have more time to learn new things. Mastering any new skill breeds confidence in your own ability, and self-confidence is a highly important quality for any child to possess.

Take a couple of activities: sewing a button onto a shirt and playing a simple tune on a guitar. Both are relatively simple with a bit of teaching, but would be fairly daunting without. Once you understand how to break down the tasks to bite-sized chunks they become manageable. Once you have identified how to use and manipulate the tools at your disposal (fingers, needle, plectrum, strings, etc.) the tasks become possible. The principles of risk tasking, breaking down tasks and comfort with tools are concepts that you can learn from computers too.

So, should all children learn to code?

The answer is a definite ‘Yes!’ but with a caveat attached. For all the reasons stated in this post, teaching all children the basics of coding is a very good idea. Children in the UK now learn coding from the age of five (although it is not called ‘coding’ as such), but some experts would argue that this is taking things a step too far. Yes, it will undoubtedly help some pupils find employment in later life, but there will be some for whom it just isn’t suitable.

There are enough associated benefits to suggest that all children should learn coding, but the more advanced aspects are probably best left as optional courses rather than being mandatory for all. In this way, those that are interested and eager to learn more can.