Since it has become clear that the digital revolution of our age is unstoppable, teaching the next generation to code has turned into a lucrative industry – just think about programming apps for kids, educational toys and robots, the related handbooks, testbooks, competitions, tutoring, etc.
What’s less evident though how the goal should be achieved – or if it needs to be achieved at all. Apart from pragmatic concerns, such as which programming language to teach first, it’s also debated whether coding will really be a necessary skill for everyone, and if yes, with which methodology to teach it in order to make today’s kids successful in the future world.
Discussing the Need to Teach Coding
Some articles try to educate parents on how to raise the next Zuckerberg (Steve Jobs, etc.), while others strongly advice against to do so. Fear-mongering about the future unemployability of people who can’t code is prevalent as well, and we can also meet articles that deny that coding needs to be a ubiquitous skill at all.
Although most of these articles contain many useful information and were written with good intentions, the whole subject still comes off as a madness.
The world is changing so fast, and the future is so unpredictable, that it’s hard to guess what would be the best, however there certainly are misconceptions that frequently pop up in discussions about how to teach children to code.
Myth #1 – Programming Starts at the Screen
It’s not always the best idea to glue very small kids to screens, especially at an age when they can barely sit still. Luckily, programming doesn’t necessarily have to start at the computer.
At a young age, it’s more important for children to pick up a special way of thinking that’s necessary to be successful at any profession that requires complex logic and advanced problem solving skills, such as programming.
The skill that helps establish the foundations of their creative confidence is called invention literacy, and it can be practiced from a very young age by encouraging kids to explore and understand their environment and to create new things.
As most kids are born explorers, it’s not a hard thing to do. In most cases it’s enough to just let them freely play and encourage them to pursue their interests.
If you want to learn more on how creative confidence can help your kids in their future profession, have a look at the book “Creating Innovators” by Tony Wagner, a brilliant Harvard professor.
Myth #2 – Coding Must Be Boring for Kids
Coding is only boring for kids if it is taught to them the same way it is taught to adults.
These days there are many great tools that use engaging and fun techniques to teach programming for children. For instance, Apple’s latest Swift Playgrounds uses interesting puzzles and immersive 3D graphics to introduce them into coding concepts step by step.
If kids start to learn to code using a tool that was tailored specifically to their needs, they don’t have to learn commands and syntax at the beginning.
These coding apps make them pick up the logic in playful and intuitive ways, and they can gradually move towards working with real code.
Recommended Reading:10 Tools To Teach Kids The Basics Of Programming
Myth #3 – They Need to Start At a Very Young Age
The issue here is not limited to just debating when the right age for kids to start learning programming is. We also have to talk about what sort of activities can be categorized under programming.
Educational sites, such as Code.org, have exercises for kids as young as 4-6 years old, that improve their computational skills and basic logic. However most people who visit the sites probably wouldn’t think of these exercises as “programming”.
In this Venture Beat article three IT professionals give three very different opinions on whether it’s worth teaching toddlers coding. Their differing views stem from their different definitions of what coding is.
Generally, it can be said, that even visual languages, such as Scratch (recommended to 8-16 ys olds), are hard to grasp for most kids who are younger than elementary school age, at an age before they can confidently read, write, and use basic mathematical operations.
Myth #4 – It’s Possible to Pick the Right Language
One thing is sure, it’s impossible to pick the right language, and thus it’s not worth stressing about it too much.
First of all, there’s no magical recipe that works for every kid. Each of them will fall in love with a different language — or won’t fall love with programming at all, which is also not a tragedy.
Moreover, the technology industry changes so rapidly that it’s hardly possible to guess which language will be in demand when today’s children becomes adults.
Below, you can see the TIOBE Programming Community Index indicating the popularity of different programming languages between 2002 and 2016.
By the time your kid will be out on the job market, this graph will most likely look completely different – some languages may disappear, and new ones will probably show up.
Recommended Reading: 15 bizarre (and insane) programming languages that exist
Programming is typically a field that requires life-long learning, therefore the most important thing for children is to pick up the logic and concepts that return in every language.
Also, in this fast-changing world soft skills, such as problem-solving, interpersonal, and project management skills, are becoming more and more important, so it’s more profitable to approach programming from a holistic perspective rather than rigidly enforcing this or that language.
Myth #5 – In the Future Everyone Will Have to Code
In the digital era, most if not all jobs increasingly make use of technology. However as user experience design is also prospering, people who will work in non-technical fields, such as marketing, education, publishing or healthcare, most likely won’t have to code as part of their jobs.
Therefore it’s not a tragedy if your kid is simply not interested in coding, as it will still be possible to be successful in other fields as well.
But mind this: digital literacy will be crucial for everyone. A digitally literate person is someone who can:
- safely and confidently use different devices and softwares
- understand how they relate to each other
- have a secure knowledge of things like web publishing, online communication tools, internet search, word processors, spreadsheets, content management systems, social media, image editors, productivity software, and many others
- and understand concepts such as online privacy and digital rights and responsibilites.
Digital Literacy is More Important
Programming, web development, system administration, and other advanced level IT skills are usually not referred to as digital literacy.
On the other hand, a basic understanding of coding can surely improve digital literacy along with many other skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking, and logic, so it’s a great thing if kids could learn all of this at school.
It can be also argued that basic coding should be taught to every kid, just like reading, writing, and math because how else we can know if a kid is talented or not?
And even if they won’t end up as programmers they will certainly benefit from the knowledge. However imagining the future workplace as a place where everyone will have to be fluent programmers (or will have to write code at all) is simply unrealistic.