No Longer a Luxury, Coding is Now Core
By Chris McMurray
One of the most valuable skillsets we can teach our students is the ability to code. Not only does it enhance their writing and math skills, but it also gives them a valuable mindset for future life and employment situations.
Perhaps the top reason to teach our students how to code is that it gives them a strong basis for problem-solving and helps them understand the way things work. When taught in an age-appropriate way, it is never too early to start. In fact, children as young as five are good candidates to begin to play with these ideas. It gives them a way to look at problems, and if done correctly, allows them to experience positive failure on their way to success, and to think creatively towards that successful pathway.
According to TeachYourKidsCode.com, “Coding is a form of expression. It is a way to learn, share and build. It’s also an opportunity to be creative and create something out of nothing – with just the power of your mind and imagination.”
Fortunately, the ability to code among school-aged children is on the rise. Until recently, however, writing code was a very specialized skillset, and coding was generally taught at the university level, mostly because K-12 teachers did not have the fluency required to write code, let alone the ability to teach it.
That was then
Coding skills are fast becoming a requirement in many jobs that were once based on traditional skills. Professions like graphic artist, environmental scientist and business analyst are fast becoming code-dependent. And coding skills are significantly increasing the earnings potential of these fields.
Simply put, the ability to code is the ability to give instructions to a computing device, to tell it what to do. Coding, in whatever form, is speaking to the device in the language it understands. In a world populated and run by computing devices, the ability to tell those devices what to do may be the most valuable workplace skill and is certainly one of the most desirable. In fact, according to CodeSubmit, 40 million technical jobs worldwide go unfilled due to a lack of skilled talent, and the pressure to find coding talent in the U.S. is enormous.
But the pressure to code is not something that is unique to Americans. In Finland, the kinder, gentler nation with the education system we all admire, they now require coding from the time little Aapo and Kaisa begin school. Coding is a mandatory, cross-curricular activity that starts from the first year of school for every child. In primary education, coding is not a subject on its own, but rather it is viewed as a medium for getting things done, a tool for learning and examining other matters, and is integral in all learning. And just like in America, learning to code is age/grade specific and allows students to learn creatively by applying coding concepts to core subjects. The Finns are ahead of the curve on this, making it part of the national curriculum. But American schools are quickly closing the gap.
Just like in Finland, the most popular curriculum used in America is designed to teach students computational thinking and core computer science concepts. Students learn the fundamentals of programming found in all object-oriented programming languages. This makes it easy for students to understand abstract programming concepts but allows them to apply these concepts to different projects, games, and scenarios. Students learn programming concepts such as loops and variables, repetition, conditional logic, functions, computer drawing, and music. Students also acquire critical skills such as problem solving, pattern recognition, abstraction, algorithmic thinking, and automation.
Coding, AKA computer science, is considered as important as Mathematics, Language Arts and Social Science by leading countries throughout the world. Many countries, such as Israel, are starting coding as early as kindergarten. In Singapore, computer science education became mandatory in 2020. The program, which was introduced in 2014 as “Coding for Fun,” was initially an enrichment program for primary and secondary students. In Australia, the government allocated $64 million to fund early learning and school STEM initiatives including coding under the Inspiring All Australians in Digital Literacy and STEM measure. In the United Arab Emirates, more than 90 percent of parents want to teach their kids coding and 35 percent of schools responded and started to implement coding classes for their students.
About the author
Currently serving as Chief Academic Officer, Chris is engaged with school leaders across the country working toward transforming teaching and learning experiences through a culture of entrepreneurialism and personalization, leveraging technology. His work with the Learning Counsel is to strengthen the services available to schools through oversight of the Learning Leadership Society as well as the Expo Achievement Schools and Hybrid Logistics Project professional networks, in addition to leading the Innovation Services division of the Learning Counsel.
Previously an assistant superintendent, principal, staff developer and classroom teacher, he combines his passion for teaching and learning with marketing and strategic development, to foster innovation in the education sector. Prior to entering education, Chris enjoyed a career in advertising as a creative director, then shifted to the information technology field to lead marketing and initiatives in new product development and strategic business alliances.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.