Why all children must learn coding

Monday January 06 2020

Coding is no longer the preserve of computer scientists. Every profession in some way needs it. Like other subjects, it is always better introduced at an early age. NET PHOTO.

Across the world, the conversion of information into a digital format – “digitalisation” – has increased productivity in the public and private sectors. As a result, virtually every country in the world is working towards a digital economy.

Online tutorials
As this new economy evolves, special skills like computer programming are needed. This is like a language of numbers, known as code, which allows people to write instructions that are executed by computers. The goal is to create something: from a web page to an image, to a piece of software.
Early coding languages emerged in the 1940s. These were basic in what they could do but complex to learn and needed an advanced understanding of maths. By the 1990s – when universities, businesses and people started to connect over the internet – computing speed and memory improved to use high-level coding languages.
These became widely available on open source platforms and online tutorials made it possible for many people to learn and continue advancing the languages so that they became simpler. Today, languages like Javascript can easily be learnt by children.
Coding curricula
Nobody can escape the touch of digital technologies. It’s used in fields as diverse as hospital equipment, remote education delivery, marketing creative art pieces or improving agricultural productivity. Coding language develops the software that can effectively deal with problems and challenges – for instance, because of coding, people who couldn’t get a bank account can now keep, send and borrow money using mobile phones.
In the past four decades, several studies have assessed the effect of learning code on primary school children. The findings show that it is beneficial to children, irrespective of their career path later in life.
Coding is just another language, and children are known to learn new languages faster than older people. So starting young is a good idea. Australia, Finland, Italy and England have developed coding curricula for children between five and 16 years.
Creative solutions
Aside from giving them a head-start for the future of work, compared with other forms of numeric sciences, learning code can enhance children’s creativity.
For instance, much of teaching maths in Africa is still done through rote learning, a pedagogical method that is outdated and discourages creativity in children. Rote learning is based on memorisation of information and repetition, “parroting” so to speak. Research shows that rote learning isn’t effective because the learner rarely gets to understand the application of what they have learnt.
By comparison, coding builds logical thinking as it requires a focus on solving a specific challenge. This teaches children to evaluate situations from different angles and come up with creative solutions. They also get to test these ideas and, if they don’t work, figure out what went wrong. Some studies have further suggested that coding enhances collaboration and communication.
Coding is no longer the preserve of computer scientists. Every profession in some way needs it. Like other subjects, it is always better introduced at an early age.

Expand broadband
Broadband and digital devices – such as computers and smart phones – are key tools for learning how to code. Access and affordability of these is essential. Governments must invest in broadband so that high quantities of data can be transmitted at high speeds. They should also provide subsi-dies, or at least not tax information and communications technology (ICT) tools, so that more children can learn coding at home or at school.
Many African countries, like Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana and Rwanda, have taken steps to reform the ICT sector and expand broadband capacity.

Boot camps
But it may take some time for governments to achieve desirable results especially since there isn’t enough resources to integrate it into all schools.
In many African countries, even the more developed ones like Kenya, there are still basic challenges to address. For instance, a lack of infrastructure – such as electricity – resources, computers and teachers who know how to use the technology.
Fortunately, there are informal ways in which children can learn to code. These include boot camps, codelabs, holiday coding camps and after school coding groups.
This article was first published in Daily Nation