Coding and children is a topic that seems to be gaining momentum lately. We teach our kids how an electric kettle works, what the inside of a plug looks like and how to set up an electrical circuit to light a bulb - why not teach them how computers work? It's not only a matter of understanding the technology that we are so reliant upon, but there is a real argument to be made for teaching our children computer science or Britain risks falling behind other countries.
As we rely more and more on technology, we seem to have become caught in a bit of a rut. We can make a spreadsheet, create documents, play around with our photos, blog and tweet until we're blue, but ask us how they're created and suddenly our beloved software seems to have been created through divine intervention. Many children can't even fathom the idea that the world once existed let alone functioned without computers, mobile phones and the internet. We need to take the mystery out of computer science.
UK ICT curriculum is being given a major overhaul come September by becoming more flexible. So just what does this mean? Michael Gove has described the current ICT Curriculum as demotivating and dull, "instead of children being taught how to use word or excel, we could have 11-year-olds able to write their own simple programming." Many ICT teachers agree that the current curriculum is uninspiring and passive but lack understanding themselves. It's not that they don't want to learn, they just need training. Having a flexible curriculum is great, but we need to make sure teachers are given enough support.
Alex Hope founder of NextGen skills and Managing Director of Double Negative argues that one reason as to why children today have little understanding of coding is because today's computers are much more complex.The old fashioned BBC Micro computers used in the 1980's were simple enough to allow children to teach themselves to code. Hope believes that children today should be learning how to code and develop their own software as Britain's future as a centre of hi-tech industry depends upon the expertise of this generation.
Last year, Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Google declared himself "flabbergasted" that children in British schools were only taught how to use computer software, but not about how it was made. Schmidt believes that the UK needs to rid itself of the divide between the arts and the sciences. Schmidt is not alone in this view, the late Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple) argued, "In my perspective ... science and computer science is a liberal art, it's something everyone should know how to use, at least, and harness in their life. It's not something that should be relegated to 5% of the population over in the corner. It's something that everybody should be exposed to and everyone should have mastery of to some extent, and that's how we viewed computation and these computation devices." Learning coding is much like learning a new language. Children tend to pick up new languages quicker than adults, which is why we should introduce them to coding from an early age.
There is a glimmer of hope however in the form of Raspberry Pi, a whole computer on a tiny circuit board that will be simple and cheap enough for children to break and fix themselves. For the price of a textbook, schools will be able to really let children get stuck in. There are a few games and courses emerging which are a great way for both children and adults alike to become familiar with coding. We are currently developing a coding game within Pora Ora. By turning programming into a game, with rewards linked to achievement and the ability to co-operate and share their programs we hope to get children genuinely excited about coding. Although our users are aged between 5 -12 years, we want them to understand how games like Pora Ora are made.
The future of ICT and computer science is exciting, especially with computer games entrepreneur Ian Livingstone, advising Educational Secretary Michael Gove. Livingstone envisages a new curriculum that could have students creating their own apps and writing their own simple programming language.We really do need to make sure that ICT lessons in schools remain relevant and practical. Today's curriculum needs to be relevant for the 21st Century. Teaching children coding from an early age is not only relevant but essential in ensuring that children are fully equipped with the fundamental basic skills necessary for the future.