Steve Jobs said, “Learning to program teaches you how to think”. And he was right, as is now being proven by different initiatives that are spotlighting how important it can be to teach children to write code. The arrival of information technology to the classrooms has made it easier to impart classes on these kinds of subjects on a massive scale, but there is still a long way to go.
Of course, not everybody believes that learning to program is essential. The professional NBA player Chris Bosh commented on this in a surprising article for Wired, which showed a facet of him many people had not known: he learned to code when he was a child and he always considered this to be important. “There are deeper things that need to be fixed in the [educational] “system” too. But I don’t think that means we should dismiss the value of learning to code.”
One of the most ambitious programs in this direction is the one promoted by Code.org, an initiative supported by all kinds of celebrities (Bill Clinton, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and the earlier mentioned Chris Bosh, among others). On the website you can find tools to start programming in different languages, many of them basic enough to be suitable for children.
The arguments in favor of teaching to code are diverse, but those who defend it believe its implications go far beyond the mere ability to develop computer programs. Many fundamental principles of programming also help you find solutions in real life.
The interface of Scratch, one of the most popular ways for children to learn to code. You may have heard of its creator: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Some teachers with experience in teaching the fundamentals of programming to children and teenagers emphasize that children between 5 and 11 years have “such tremendous capacity to learn about algorithms and computing that it would be a shame to wait until they are teenagers to teach them the basic principles”.
Just like in case of languages, as Wired pointed out as well, the creation of so-called procedural memories is something completely natural for these young minds. These kinds of memories are integrated so deep in the psyche of a person that accessing them is more a natural reflex than a task we perform consciously”. 5 year-old children, for instance, usually have such an astounding ability to absorb these kinds of contents that it makes us compare them with sponges in popular sayings.
The results of different studies point to this factor and to the fact that, as our brain matures, its capacity for procedural memory diminishes in favor of a declarative memory, which we use to accumulate facts and knowledge. “The disadvantage of declarative memory is that it requires a mental effort to activate it, something which becomes a big disadvantage if we are trying to conjugate an irregular verb in a foreign language. It is much better if these conjugations have become your second nature, because you learned them while your procedural memory was still at its highest capacity.”.
In this organization they have no doubt about it and its promoters are giving the most diverse reasons why children should be taught to code. We would like to highlight five of them for you:
Learning to write code helps you solve problems: Not only does it enable children to learn ways to tackle complex problems, use their creativity to create real applications or automate tasks by programming computers: Many of the principles of programming can useful for solving all kinds of problems in real life.
It is like learning a language: Games and visual programming languages help children understand the logic behind program codes and its concepts possibly even before they learn to read. The techniques and the languages used (Scratch is a example that continues to gain popularity) are especially aimed at children and they are a good first step which makes it easier for them to learn traditional programming languages later on.
diversity is good for children: learning different contents like the ones imparted in programming courses broadens their skills, helps them think and better face other problems they have to solve.
Digital literacy: The relevance technology has nowadays makes being able to interact with it in a natural way an important and very valuable skill to learn from these educational contents. Children who learn to code not only interact with technology: They create it and they express themselves in the way they are applying their knowledge about it.
We need programmers: At Code.org itself, they mention another fact that makes learning to code interesting: the demand for programmerswill grow dramatically in the years to come. In the United States alone, estimates show that by the year 2020 there will be 1 million more jobs than graduates in engineering and computing coming out of university, based on the current study plans. “Computing is the best paid university degree, and jobs in programming are growing twice as fast as the national average”, a recent study indicates.
The truth is, there are many more arguments in favor of learning to code, but an important one comes from the writer and thinker Douglas Rushkoff, who said in a recent interview that the majority of interaction we will have 50 years from now will not be with people speaking a single language in Asia: we will predominantly interact with machines. He has a point there.
And finally, we would like to share this link with you of an article where we selected a series of apps for children to learn how to code.
The mSchools programme is a multi-year, multi-faceted mEducation initiative by the Mobile World Capital Barcelona. The mSchools programme is designed to lower dropout rates, improve student attainment in schools across Catalonia and throughout Spain and, ultimately, to better prepare students as they pursue further education and employment in today’s digital world.
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