Five-Year-Olds To Be Taught How To Make Phone Apps? What A Brilliant Idea!

14/08/2014 16:58 | Updated 20 May 2015

Children using computers in classroom

One morning this week, I dropped my six-year-old son off early at his classroom to find his teacher wasn't there. Rather than leave him to his own devices, I got my son to give me a guided tour of the colourful work on the walls and to point out his efforts.

Taken in isolation, his drawings, paintings and creative writing might have looked OK. But judged alongside his peers' work, it was clear that he is far from the most accomplished pupil in his class. To be honest, this doesn't bother me.

He's an August baby, and thus almost the youngest of his classmates. The oldest – a girl – is virtually a year older than him – and it showed in her beautifully crafted prose and penmanship.

But then I saw some work by a boy a few days younger than my son and it was in a different – better – league.

The phrase, 'Must try harder', came to mind. But then I thought about how hard he does try, how upset he gets when he can't read a word or spells something wrong. He's trying hard enough, I concluded. He's just not a genius, well, not at reading and writing and drawing, anyway.

So what is he good at? Just then, his best pal sauntered in, with his coat around his elbows and a look of mischief in his eye.

The teacher wasn't there, was she? Who could stop him? He eyed her computer with a glint, then nodded to my son, and before I could stop them (I didn't try), they were off, tapping away at the keyboard, whizzing around the school's online learning centre, solving puzzles, cracking codes.

A few minutes later, a little gaggle of girls and boys had gathered around them, coo-ing and oo-ing at their computer wizardry.

At first, I thought this was clearly wrong, that I should shoo them off and make them sit on the carpet with their fingers on their lips until their teacher arrived.

But then it struck me: THIS was my six-year-old son's forte. This is what he loves. This is his FUTURE. OK, he needs to learn to read and write – and he is doing. Yes, it's a struggle, but he's getting there.

But where his 12-year-old sister's passion is for sport and drama and his nine-year-old brother's is for music and Lego, my youngest's is the world of numbers – and computers.

He skips to school counting the steps or chanting his times' tables. And when he gets home, he delves into the virtual world – the computer screen, the Xbox controller, the Wii, the hand-held device.

Put the two together and surely we have potential for the future? Granted, I'm in denial. Granted, I'm a bad parent for allowing him to fine-tune his skills by giving him so much access to Club Penguin, Friv, Super Mario, Moshi Monsters, Harry Potter World and Minecraft.

But, you know what, hang me for it. He doesn't go onto any social networking sites; all the parental safeguards are switched on; I restrict him and his siblings to three or four one-hour session per week; and I've even turned off that hidden InAppPurchase button on his iPod, you know, the one that causes unsuspecting parents to get lumbered with hundreds of pounds in phone charges?

Yes, I'm relaxed about his computer use – in fact I positively encourage it - because I believe that is what he excels at – and will excel at in the future.

Am I wrong to invest so much hope in my son's affinity for computers and tablets and apps?

The Government doesn't think so. OK, that's not necessarily a good indicator, but on this one, I think it's got it right.

From September, children as young as five are to be given lessons in creating mobile phone apps.

Boring IT lessons will be scrapped in favour of classes in how to build websites, design games and develop life-changing software.

It's a brilliant move and comes at the same time as a survey suggests computer skills are now as important to parents as the three Rs.

Ministers now hope to inspire a generation to follow in the footsteps of British teenagers who have sold their apps for millions.

The new curriculum coming into force from the autumn has been re-written to take account of developments in technology which mean anyone can learn how to use computer 'code'.

Instead of IT lessons which taught pupils how to use basic programmes, pupils will learn how to create their own software, smartphone apps and websites.

A new survey to mark the start of the Year of Code shows 94 per cent of parents of children aged 5-16 think computer skills are important for today's job market - the same proportion who say the same about literacy.

Some 95 per cent said being good at maths was important. Chancellor George Osborne said: "In the 21st century, the ability to code and program a computer is no longer a nice-to-have, it's an essential."

It is hoped a generation of children already adept at using iPhones, uploading video to YouTube and switching between social media including Twitter, Whatsapp and Snapchat will become the designers of the future.

And I have every faith that my six-year-old son will be at the front of the queue.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "The new computing curriculum will give our children the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. That is why we replaced the obsolete and boring curriculum with one that is forward-thinking, modern, and drawn up by teachers, industry experts and leading technology firms.

"I want IT firms, university computing departments and software developers to use this fund to share their knowledge with the next generation."

Web giants including Google and Microsoft helped to draw up the new computing curriculum with the Royal Society of Engineering.

A £500,000 fund will be set up, with the Government matching money invested by industry and technology businesses, to help ensure teachers are trained to teach the new curriculum.

Pupils will be taught computer science as a distinct science alongside chemistry, physics and biology, covering algorithms, data structures and programming.

There will also be lessons in 'digital literacy' to ensure children know how to use computers confidently, effectively and safely while IT classes will cover how digital technologies can be used to improve lives.

From the age of five children will learn to code and program, with algorithms, sequencing, selection and repetition.

They will also be taught how to create and debug simple programmes and be taught how to use technology safely.

By age eight they will be designing their own programmes to collect, analyse and evaluate data.

And 11-year-olds will learn how to use their skills to solve real-life problems, paving the way for them to create the next big-selling app.

Brilliant! All I need to do now is sit back, wait for my six-year-old to leave school – then bask in the millions he brings home to his dad who allowed him to throw away his youth on Minecraft!

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