Should we really be teaching our kids how to code?
Due to rapidly developing artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, many of the jobs of the past will not exist in the future. Kids today will require a different skill set to thrive in the digital workplace of tomorrow, and learning the language of computers is an excellent start for futureproofing the next generation.
However, like many other jobs, computer programming is also facing the threat of future automation. A recent National Science Foundation (NSF) project developed a new technology that provides human operators with automated programming assistance. This technology essentially removes the need for tedious coding by allowing programmers to communicate with computers in their natural language.
So the question becomes: why should kids learn to code when it seems computers will soon speak our language?
AI killed the coding star
As AI continues its rapid evolution, it’s possible that by the time our kids enter the workforce, they will simply tell a computer how to program itself with no actual coding required.
But that’s not necessarily a strong argument for not teaching coding skills to kids. After all, we still teach maths even though calculators can do the sums for us. We learn biology despite only a few of us becoming doctors, and not everyone who studies physics will end up working for NASA.
Why do we continue to teach kids theoretical knowledge they will likely never put into practice? Because education is as much about teaching kids how to think as it is about equipping them with the skills they need to get a job. And coding offers a lot in the learning-how-to-think department.
Learning how to think
The late Steve Jobs once quipped: “Everyone should learn how to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.”
He was talking about computational thinking, which essentially involves logically organising and analysing data to solve problems. Coding also requires algorithmic thinking – using a series of steps to design an automated solution. And that’s just the beginning.
According to the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), learning to code helps students develop confidence in dealing with complexity, persistence in working with difficult problems, tolerance for ambiguity, the ability to deal with open-ended problems and the ability to collaborate.
In other words, learning to program a computer helps kids develop the ability to innovate. And that will continue to be a vital skill in any industry your kids choose to work in.
Programming for preschoolers
Some experts argue that coding should be taught alongside basic literacy and numeracy to kids as young as three. A range of preschool toys – check out Bee-Bot – have been developed to teach even toddlers basic programming concepts, and there are a number of game-based websites and apps, such as Hopscotch and Tynker, that aim to introduce older kids to the wide world of coding.
Just as maths and science help us understand the building blocks of our physical environment, and English and history develop our sense of the human condition, coding reveals the DNA of the digital world. It’s not a replacement for the sciences or humanities, but rather a third lens through which to view – and understand – the world around us.