As the world becomes more technology centered and mobile devices become more and more user friendly, it's easy to think that computer skills aren't something that need to be taught in school. When you think about it, even small children can figure out how to use an iPad or Android tablet, which has made our children more tech savvy than any other generation.
However, since they are using the technology without having any sort of understanding of what happens when they click or touch a button, they run the risk of being almost computer illiterate without the help of an intuitive operating system.
It made me wonder if this is a problem. After all, do children really need to understand how a computer processes requests? If they don't know simple coding or command line prompts, will it hold them back in their future careers? Without being taught coding and having a thorough understanding of the technology they use, will they still be interested in careers in the technology field? If so, what technology skills should children learn in school?
To answer these questions, it's important to try to think about computer literacy in the same way that we think about actual literacy. As children grow, they progress from learning how to hold a book and turn pages to learning how to read. We teach them how to write and compose coherent sentences in order to write their own thoughts. Before most children complete high school, they've been required to write several essays and even term papers. Although they may not decide to pursue a career in journalism or become a writer, the skills they learn add to their overall command of the English language and improves their communication skills.
Just like writing skills, coding should be something that children are taught in school. By the time they graduate, they should be able to write simple programs. Even if they aren't interested in technology as a career, these exercises will help them understand how technology works and how to use it to solve simple problems. Even though they are completely capable of using touch screens and intuitive devices, knowing how it all comes together will make their experiences richer.
Another problem with not teaching basic coding in schools is that if a student wants to become a computer programmer, they will have to seek out classes on their own or wait until they reach college before learning how to create their own programs. As you can imagine, this would be a serious handicap for an aspiring programmer.
A recent article at The Guardian covered this debate and I think that they had a great point. They mention how programming is a example of having learned so many sub-skills that can help people later in life, like typing. They cited as an example the decline in the use of “regexp” or regular expressions. Regular expressions, for those who don't know, are little bits of code that allow someone to search for specific strings of text within a document, database or other text. They don't get a lot of recognition but once you learn them, they quickly become just a part of how you work with your computer. By using a regexp, you can sort through databases to find the exact information you need. Even if someone doesn't work as a programmer, these shortcuts can mean the difference between getting a task done in 20 or more steps or getting it done in 3.
If we are going to continue creating great thinkers and technological innovators, I think it's crucial to teach tech skills in school and I would even go so far as to suggest that we teach coding the same way that we teach foreign languages. I'm not the only one who thinks this way – In Silicon Valley, the public school systems have begun teaching children to code in elementary schools. As a result of their hard work, the children have created several simple computer games as part of their class project. Not only are these games fun for the students, but they help build self-esteem and confidence by providing them with a tangible product for all of their hard work.
But what other tech skills should children learn in school? Here are a few things I think are important:
Online literacy – Children should learn how to use a search engine to do research. They should know how to use keywords and shortcuts to maximize the quality of their results. Typing, spelling, grammar and proper capitalization are also important. Most importantly, children should learn how to analyze things they read online and how to determine if it is coming from a reliable source.
The science, math and history of technology – Many students don't know that there are numbers other than the traditional 1-10. Students should learn things like binary and the history of modern technology. Even if they only received a brief overview, they should know what DOS is and how it works.
How to use and create a database – I've noticed so many teens using online services to create a list of their CDs or to keep track of books they've read. If they had been taught how to build a simple database, they could make the task much simpler and easier to use. Students are routinely given instructions on how to use Microsoft Office programs like Word and Power Point, learning to build a database could be added to that instruction.
As our society becomes increasingly more dependent on technology and computers, it's becoming vital that our children grow up learning how computers think and how to solve problems through the appropriate use of technology. Already the world is changing and it's likely that by the time they reach adulthood, they will be interacting with computers in ways we can only imagine. Learning their language will certainly benefit them just as much (if not more so) than learning French or Spanish.
Do you think that children should be taught coding and other computer skills? What skills do you think are really important? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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