Teach Coding at Primary School

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Cursive writing and mastery of Latin were once core studies in the educational curriculum. Today, technology leaders are encouraging parents and schools to teach kids to code.

Teaching kids to code will prepare the next generation to keep our tech-reliant economy buzzing. Around half of the highest-paying jobs now require some coding knowledge. We’re also on the precipice of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where it’s estimated that as many as 30 per cent of jobs are potentially under threat from advances in artificial intelligence (AI). In some sectors, half the jobs could go. That means we need to prepare our young people for a world where the jobs they will do have not yet been invented and where the skills they need can only be imagined.

No matter their career aspirations, all students can benefit from learning computational thinking and problem-solving strategies. It offers many opportunities for learning and personal growth, exploration and creativity, mastery of new skills, and ways of thinking.

But how do we prepare seven year-olds for this brave new world where robots may take our jobs, edible barcodes will safeguard our food and having a conversation with a domestic appliance will seem natural? The answer: we start getting them curious about technology when they’re six.

In New South Wales, Australia, coding will be compulsory for primary school children from next year, while students in years 7 and 8 will be required to learn a coding language under new science and technology syllabuses. The new primary school science syllabus aims to give children a better understanding of scientific concepts and methods by the time they finish year 6 so they are ready for more sophisticated science at high school.

However, this isn’t something that teachers can do on their own. It’s why UK Education Secretary Damian Hinds has challenged the tech industry to launch an education revolution for schools, colleges and universities. The aim is to create sustainable, focused solutions which will ultimately support and inspire the learners of today and leaders of tomorrow.

Industry needs to link to and complement the curriculum so that teachers readily engage with it to increase their digital skills, and embed them into their teaching, without seeing it as extra work.

Young people must be exposed to coding, design thinking, data analytics, VR/AR, cybersecurity, AI, robotics, drones and prototyping.

Early coding provides children skills, confidence and important technological knowledge but teachers need to be properly skilled. The key to maximising the benefits of introducing coding early is providing teachers with the capabilities to teach coding and computational thinking in a way that ignites children’s curiosity and wonderment. Teachers must receive the requisite training and be made to understand that teaching coding is as important as teaching math and spelling.

The UK altered its national curriculum four years ago to include an overhaul of its computing education program, which involves teaching secondary school children to code and how to understand algorithms, as well as using websites and learning about internet safety.

The curriculum was created in collaboration with tech companies like Google and Microsoft, as part of a forward-thinking plan to address a skills shortage in the technology sector. The collaboration has also included funding from these companies to help train teachers to teach these subjects.

At the time, then education secretary Michael Gove said the curriculum would replace outdated computing classes that focused on teaching children how to word process and create spreadsheets, with a program that would focus on “computer science, information technology and digital literacy.”

Advocates argue that the benefits of teaching coding and computer-science related subjects go beyond future career prospects, with lessons helping to develop children’s logic, and even boosting their literacy and numeracy skills.

When students are taught coding and tech skills in primary school, they can decide for themselves whether they want to take a deeper programming course in secondary school.

Computer science, and especially coding, has wide-ranging benefits, from the more obvious skills around creating applications and designing algorithms, to the contributions it makes to the development of children’s problem solving and logic skills.

It appears that the time is now to give children exposure to computational thinking and the practical applications of it, to better prepare them for the massive role that the technology industry will play in this digital age.