– Steve Jobs, 1995.
In the 20 years since these words were spoken, coding has become an essential component of how things work – powering the day-to-day (from smart homes to mobile apps) and paving the way for the future (with AI, smart cities, and a more connected world). Red Wire spoke to Ally Watson, of Code Like a Girl, to find out why coding is more important than ever for the next generation of problem-solvers, and how you can get your kids on board.
“You have to dream, and what you have with your coding skills are the languages in which to dream.” – Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia.
A skill for life
To understand why coding is so valuable to children, we need to think less about 1s and 0s and more about the scale of problems we can solve. Whether it’s breaking down complex systems or creating a piece of art, coding is the new literacy standard in a digital age, helping students solve problems efficiently and creatively.
The other, perhaps more palpable reason lies in the very future of technology itself. Apps, devices, and programs improve at an exponential rate, and the way children process this information needs to evolve alongside it. They need a foundational understanding of code at a young age in order to solve more complex problems later in life, where the correct skill set will be the difference between someone with a bright app idea, and the ability to make it happen.
Ally Watson runs Code Like a Girl, an initiative that helps Australian women develop the skills required to excel in STEM industries, where women account for less than one-fifth of the workforce. She points to computational thinking, problem-solving, confidence, courage, and fearlessness of failure as skills that can all be developed from learning to code at a young age. “Engaging young girls through technology in their formative years is crucial to seeing a much-needed change in the number of females enrolling in technology-based degrees.” The challenge, Watson says, is removing the stigma that tech is ‘geeky’ or just for boys.
The opportunities of code
We’re on the precipice of a global STEM skills shortage: In the US alone, there will be 1.4 million programming jobs to fulfil in the next decade, with only 400,000 IT graduates to fill them, educated in the ten per cent of schools equipped to teach it. Interestingly, 67% of these jobs will be outside the tech sector, signalling a shift in the way businesses and services use IT in their everyday management.
“The nature of the work we do in Australia is changing and we must ensure the students of today have the right skills and training for the jobs of tomorrow. Now is the time to be supporting and nurturing upcoming talent.” – Tony Peake, PwC STEM Leader
Ok, sign me up!
Research shows that only 32 per cent of Australian students indicate they have been given an opportunity to learn coding. The good news is that there is no shortage of options for parents wishing to teach their kids to code. “Firstly, see what’s happening at your child’s school — there might be coding initiatives such as our Code Like a Girl Junior Workshops. If you’re serious about setting up your kids with coding skills we’d also recommend joining your local code club.” She points to programs like Code Club Australia and Code The Future as part of a network dedicated to teaching children the fundamentals of coding. “It’s always important when learning something new in a group setting to have peers that encourage motivation.”
There are a plethora of online resources for anyone wanting to kick off (or improve) their learning, many of which use games and storytelling to develop logical thinking skills.
Code.Org: Backed by the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Barack Obama, Code.Org is a non-profit organisation dedicated to teaching the basics of code and increase participation in under-represented communities in the IT industry. Its ‘Hour of Code’ program has been tried over 250 million times, with 49% female participation. Kids can learn to code with characters from Star Wars and Frozen, build their own games, and solve puzzles. Ages 5+.
Scratch (+ ScratchJr): Developed by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Scratch empowers children to create simple programs from their web browser. You can create stories, games, and animations with a simple interface to understand the basics of code. The ScratchJr iPad app also allows for a more introductory coding framework in an engaging format. Ages 6+
Lightbot: This app uses simple puzzles and games as children-oriented coding classes, teaching what the New York Times described as ‘pretty sophisticated principles of programming’. Ages 5+
The value of coding is only set to increase over the next few years as we create new jobs (and makes others redundant). For kids, this means joining a diverse community of thinkers and doers that will literally build the future. “Diversity in any shape or form brings with it new opinions, new backgrounds, and insights and ultimately strengthens the team which leads to better solutions.”
Codes Like a Girl kick off their junior workshops this September.
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