If I asked you, a parent, or adult 30 years+, what you know about computer coding and algorithms, the answer would probably come back, not a lot. And why would you. From the era of Baby Bloomers through to Generation Y, we grew up learning from black boards and paper textbooks, where a computer lesson was a rarity. We were happily benefiting from the revolution of using electricity, but how quickly things have evolved - especially for our newest generation.
In 2014, the UK government had an overhaul of the way it teaches computing to children, by adding mandatory programming classes in state schools, starting from those aged five years+. The government now wants the nation's kids to not only consume technology but to build it. With it being projected that the country is to have a shortage of 249,000 workers for technologically skilled jobs by 2020*, there's a reason the government has made some significant changes.
Kids now live in a new 'digital' world. It's hard for many parents to keep up or understand, so they are on their own discovering it. Learning by themselves takes time, a lot of mistakes, and some may be lost on their way. We must not leave kids alone in a field that is getting more complicated day-by-day. By making the effort, you can help your child be at the forefront of this ever-evolving world, with the added potential of a good job at the end of it for them.
To comprehend the idea and logic that governs this digital field - a.k.a. programming - is an essential skill and an effective way to learn how to discover this world, and create something in it. Because currently this is the language we can speak with machines our life depends on.
So where do we start. Learning programming (or 'coding') is something like learning to drive. You had an instructor with a car, and you learned to drive that car. And for some reason you are suddenly allowed to drive any car. And that's alright with everyone, because we know that all cars are similar, and anyway, the bigger part of being allowed to drive is to know the road signs and know the rules.
It's the same idea with programming: you learn the rules, signs, and the techniques in one programming language, and then if you have to code in another one - speak to a different machine, you won't have to learn the whole thing again to do so.
The logic of programming is required merely to use computers and technology. Whether you like it or not, computers are already part of our everyday life, as cars and televisions became over 60 years ago. For our children this is no longer a new possibility or a passing trend, but the very foundation of their mindset. The possibilities and the doors opened by modern tools and ideas like connectivity, network, online community and Wikipedia are the very basis on which the future is being built right now. And it is being built by our children. So we better give them the chance to learn to use them creatively.
Kids need to learn how to handle the huge amount of information they receive, how to use the new digital devices emerging day-by-day. Not how to push a button or how to delete a widget from the home screen, but how to use the possibilities that device opens up for them to their advantage, for their own good. Some examples:
●How to effectively search for something on Google
● How to keep their privacy on Facebook (and on other social media)
● How to use their smartphone to solve their math homework
So the world's moving faster, and the UK is ahead of the game. But change is hard and change is slow, especially in schools. Teachers have to be trained for the curriculum, new devices have to be purchased, schedules have to be changed, performance monitoring systems have to be installed - the list goes on.
As a parent, don't rely on schools to teach your kid computer science and programming. Take this matter into your own hand, go and find your children a game, toy, educational videos, and make sure he or she spends quality time looking at the screen - and with you.
Five tips on where to start:
1. There are several resources of high quality educational videos on the web, not just about programming. Take for example the countless educational channels on YouTube (Sixty Symbols, Minute Physics, Smarter Every Day, Veritasium, Crash Course), or to mention a professional: Khan Academy. (See the founder, Salman Khan's TED talk on how and why he created his remarkable and popular project).
2. To start with something quick and easy, we have found lightbot to be a smart game to introduce kids to programming concepts. Next you can browse through the educational section of Apple Appstore or Android Play Store, or start a tutorial on code.org.
3. Take initiative and ask your kids' school if they are open to the idea of a programming workshop or course - for the children and for the parents! Or Find a CoderDojo near you, so your child can experience that coding can be a social activity.
4. There are affordable tools like Codie, robotic toys which work with a smartphone app, where children can interact and make codes in just two minutes. It's fun and the whole family can use.
5. If you'd rather play with your kids away from the screen, there are great board games, e.g. RoboRally, promoting logical thinking and the mindset of programming.
Written by Adam Lipecz, Co-Founder and CEO of Codie, making robotic toys that teaches the basics of programming.
Currently raising funds on Indiegogo at http://igg.me/at/codietherobot.
*According to research from Empirica prepared for the European Commission and source from Bloomberg