Coding Kids! Computer Technology Safer Bet for their Future than Standard Curriculum

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Written by Veronika Bradley for Children’s Health and Safety Association – June 30, 2015

Republished by Diligencia Investigative Reporting – April 2019

Leroy Vincent, a technology and art specialist at the River Valley Middle School in Grand Bay-Westfield, New Brunswick, believes that children should be exposed to computer tools because technology is playing an ever-increasing role in today’s culture, business and everyday life.

Children are very comfortable with computer technology because they have

been exposed to communication devices at a very young age - probably before they opened a book.  There’s a renewed energy and eagerness to learn in the classroom and it’s all thanks to computer coding.

“Computer coding – or programming – is the art of writing instructions that control computers,” says Dave Didur, former educational computer consultant and education officer for the Ontario Ministry of Education. 

“It is an art because a lot of individual creativity is involved, but it is also a science that demands following rules and obeying syntax.  At a time when students are no longer taught proper spelling, the rules of grammar, or how to create sentences in English, it is encouraging to see that they are willing to apply themselves in order to learn the proper spelling of computer programming commands and how to put them together in order to make legitimate instructions.  The positive reinforcement they receive for their efforts is given by what is produced on the computer screen.”

“Youngsters use programming languages that are simpler in form than what is used by scientists, engineers and businesses, but they allow them to incorporate graphics, text and animations in ways that produce little games or personal books.  Senior high school students can learn how to program in industry standard languages in Computer Science courses.” 

“Besides the discipline of learning proper spelling and syntax rules, students also learn the necessity of planning.  Producing a storyboard for a game or a book is a logical exercise that involves careful thought and an analysis of all possible situations.  Thinking skills should be taught in our schools – and coding is one method of accomplishing this.”

“Finally, the process of debugging is part of learning to code.  This involves testing the program to ensure that it works properly for all possible cases, finding the errors, and correcting them.  Once again, this is a very logical process that requires careful attention to detail and an infinite amount of patience – attributes that should be encouraged in all of our students,” said Dave Didur.

While real programming languages are far beyond the grasp of most elementary students, about 340 Grade 6 to Grade 8 students at River Valley Middle School are exposed to ‘Scratch’, a basic user-friendly, computer coding program.  Developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and funded by the National Science Foundation, Microsoft, Google and Intel, it runs on both Windows and Mac operating systems.  Very easy to download, install and use, this program is capable of creating interactive stories and games. 

At another school in Ottawa, a program called ‘TechU.me’ pairs Grade 10 students with Grade 3 kids so they can learn more about coding.  Grade 3 kids present ideas for an app based on subject matter they have learned in class and the Grade 10 students turn their ideas into reality.

"The apps are basic but what we like to 

say is that the app is not the end goal, it's the process of creating the app that really is the biggest lesson for the students involved," says Maria Smirnoff, Program Manager at TechU.me.

Designed to encourage technology education, this project is now in 55 schools.

In Iqaluit, the largest city and capital of the Canadian territory of Nunavut, a rollout program was initiated last March that will expose 100,000 students to coding over the next three years.

Students at Dalhousie Elementary School in Winnipeg, Manitoba, meet every week at the ‘Coding Club’ to learn computer programming. 

While students in New Brunswick, Quebec and Prince Edward Island are receiving coding programs, it's up to individual teachers in British Columbia and Yukon to include it in the curriculum.

Estonia, a tiny European country with a population of 1.3 million, was the first country in the world to teach first graders how to write computer programs.  The Estonian Ministry of Education decided that children from grades one to four would take coding classes as part of their curriculum and subsequently, they could join extracurricular ‘coding clubs’ if they so chose.

Children as young as six attend a weekly out-of-school private learning centre in Hong Kong to receive lessons in computer coding.  Parents are willing to pay $775.00 to $1,300.00 for a twelve-week course so that their children can keep up with the fast-moving, digital industry.  The average monthly household income last year was about $3,000.00.

This is the first year schools in the United Kingdom will receive coding curriculum.  Students from five years of age and upwards will be taught the basics of programming. 

“This is not just an evolutionary change – this is a massive revolution in the study of computing, which until now has consisted almost entirely of lessons in how to use Microsoft Office programs.  England is leading the world in this transformation and, bizarrely, no one seems to know about it,” said Sophie Curtis in The Telegraph dated June 29, 2015.

The 2014 British curriculum was announced by education secretary Michael Gove, who stated, "For the first time children will be learning to programme computers.  It will raise standards across the board – and allow our children to compete in the global race."

Australia and Singapore are presently discussing when and how to include computer programming in their curriculum.

The Hong Kong government plans to make computer programming a required subject for students as young as 11 years old.

“During our years of learning in school, we were taught a lot of skills – how to write, how to read, how to solve problems, how to think.  At times, the thought of solving a particular problem or reaching an intellectual level seemed baffling and impossible, yet time and time again, we found ourselves at another learning plateau.”

“Coding is no different.  It’s a skill that you can learn, just like you did with any other essential tool that you’ve added to your intellectual arsenal over the years.”

"What we want to do is to incorporate coding as a mandatory part of early secondary education so as to equip students for the future digital world," said Joey Lam, Hong Kong's deputy government chief information officer, as reported in BBC News.

"It's much more intuitive for them to learn the concepts and build a foundation.  Later they will begin to learn JavaScript, a programming language that underpins many internet applications,” says Michelle Sun, founder of the First Code Academy. 

“Code.org says a coding education is wildly popular.  In just four months, 34 million students participated in the Hour of Code, a program backed by Google and Apple.  Classes would be more successful if there were an institutional push behind them,” reported teamtreehouse.com on May 7, 2014. 

“Computer science education draws overwhelming support — not only from the tech industry and its leaders, but among regular Americans who want their children to be prepared for the software century.”

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