If you’ve got a school-age kid, chances are you’re at least vaguely aware that ‘coding’ has been introduced to the National Curriculum in recent years.
If you haven’t, or if the news has passed you by, here’s a quick round up: in the old days, computing lessons (which might have been called ICT or IT) usually meant getting to grips with typing, handling a mouse, and how to use some basic software packages – Word, Excel and maybe PowerPoint at a push, with very little in-between or beyond that. Of course, understanding Word is pretty useful, if only for making an attractive-looking CV one day, but it shouldn’t require hours upon hours of serious education time.
As technology changes and marches on, we need children grounded in technology skills from an early age, just as they are taught English/Maths/Science from their earliest schooldays. The older they are when you introduce something, the more likely they are to think ‘this isn’t for me’, or ‘computers are for boys’ or ‘only geeks want to do this’. If it’s introduced along with other essential components of education, children take it as read that it’s just as important.
That’s why coding was added to the Curriculum in 2014, ensuring that children from age five and up learn about computer programming alongside their phonics, maths and so on.
On the surface, coding might seem a tough challenge for younger children, but broken down it’s really very straight-forward and age appropriate. Five-year-olds, for example, might start learning about algorithms, which are just sets of rules that computers follow. They might start by looking at algorithms in daily life – such as the ‘rules’ they follow to get ready for school in the morning, whether the steps that take place happen in a logical order, and what happens if a step is missed out. All this makes learning about coding very accessible to them.
They learn that if instructions aren’t precise, programs can fail. They use logical reasoning to predict how programs should react. And of course they are still taught all about internet safety, which is absolutely vital in this day and age.
These skills provide a foundation for many other areas of learning, and that’s why it’s so useful that our children learn coding early on.
The next generation needs training in the skills that will be important over the next twenty or thirty years. There is a huge, growing demand for people who can work in and understand computing and technology. We will need more game developers, coders, programmers and IT specialists.
But make no mistake, coding isn’t just for children who may one day wish to be employed in one of those areas. At its very basic level, coding is about understanding logic, patterns, how we present things to others, and how we locate mistakes and fix them. These are all invaluable skills that can be carried across into numerous professions.
Think about algorithms again – if a child writes some simple code and it doesn’t work, they learn to retrace their steps to pinpoint where it went wrong. Troubleshooting is a skill many adults do not possess!
As children get older and pass from infants to juniors to secondary school, the skills continue to get added on. They learn to design programs, understand networks, use search technology, learn multiple programming languages, and undertake projects that encompass all of the above.
It’s easy to support children at home, too. Scratch is a free programming language from MIT that enables children to make animations and tell stories. It’s already used in schools, so why not do it at home, too?
Or, for a bit of money, computer kits like Kano (£139.99 at the time of writing, based on the Raspberry Pi) come with coding tutorials for children so they can do things like Minecraft hacks – very appealing for many youngsters.
There are after-school coding clubs in some areas too. Practice makes perfect, goes the cliche, but it’s true. It can become a hobby, as well as something to be learned in school. It’s easy for children to get involved and interested in coding, even for homework-avoiders. Just code and see.
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