Updated: Sep 28, 2018
What is coding all about and why is everyone so desperate for their kids to learn? Olivia Maitre finds out.
Today, there seems to be more and more focus on coding. This shouldn’t be too hard to understand as it is the new alphabet of this generation. Considering how children have tangible and creative minds, teaching them how to code has to happen now. As with any language, it will be best taught at a young age – more specifically before the age of seven. Kids these days are already very familiar with technology, be it through the use of video games or through their mum’s (or their own) phone. But being familiar doesn’t make them completely fluent. Whether you love coding or not, in this digital age, it’s definitely something to consider learning – especially when the US Bureau of Labour Statistics projects that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer-science-related jobs available.
Before delving into the importance of teaching coding to kids, let’s examine the definition of coding: “a method of making something easy to recognise or distinct, for example by colouring it”. Doesn’t seem too complicated, right? Computer coding is exactly the same concept – simply put, it is telling the computer what it should do. As you can imagine, the definitions of computer coding, the terms and languages are more complex, but let’s concentrate on the bigger picture.
Probably the biggest misconception of coding is that it is solely built for people with mathematical skills. In fact, it can be for anyone who wants to make a difference – regardless of their mathematical abilities. Or, simply, for anyone who would like to understand the magic behind the technology they use every day. Another important misconception is to think that coding is only made for “geniuses”, that is to say, for people with an IQ of 160. Programming is for anyone who knows how to communicate and who has an interest. Anyone who owns a computer knows that the machine works with logic. But this logic can be easily taught and in a fun way. This doesn’t only apply to kids – it can apply to anyone, regardless of their age, who is willing to learn how to code.
Here, it only seems right to mention the free website Scratch designed by the MIT Media Lab and built especially for children using a visual programming language. This illustrates exactly how learning to code can be like an entertaining game for kids.
As you can see from the Scratch image featured above, the different coding variables are dragged into the desktop area to form blocks that tell the Sprite (here, the cat) what to do. The variables come under different categories such as Motion, Looks, Sound, Events and Sensing. Once the user assembles their logical choices, an animation will be created with the character or Sprite moving around the Scratch screen area. This is exactly what “coding made easy” looks like – anything is possible!
The number one skill kids need to have today
Now that we’ve examined the definition and the application of coding for kids, let’s weigh all the advantages that will emerge from learning to code. Hint: there are lots of reasons why your child should start learning now …
1.Improved academic performance
As you can imagine, coding firstly improves maths performance. It helps visualise concepts that are typically challenging to understand at school. Secondly, it helps to apply mathematical concepts and exercise problem-solving abilities (through learning algorithms for example). Last but not least, it also helps children build logical and critical thinking through precise methods of thinking. It teaches them to see the bigger picture of things and how to transform big challenges into smaller and more achievable tasks. Sounds tempting!
2.Basic language in the digital age
As mentioned previously, coding is the basic language of the Digital Age. It is also the world’s most widely used language. If your child can understand how technology works today, so many doors will open for him/her in the future. It will also help exercise their mental cognitive flexibility – who doesn’t need it? Simply put, think of coding as the new reading and writing. As Mitchel Resnick, professor at the MIT Media Lab says,
“To thrive in tomorrow’s society, young people must learn to design, create and express themselves with digital technologies.”
Yes, coding can also enhance your child’s soft skills. It’s important to shed light on these as they are too often neglected in academic context. In the long term, soft skills are even more important than technical skills. In fact, soft skills have never been more crucial in today’s businesses – as companies strive to become more flexible and more dynamic.
These soft skills include communication skills – kids communicate with computers and with people. Janet Siegmund, a psychologist, studied brain activity in programmers and it turns out coding had more to do with language than mathematics. The process of breaking down problems and finding the right communication can translate with people, too. Your child’s communication skills will always be necessary – be it in the workplace or in their day-to-day relationships.
Communication skills will also lead to good thinking skills, as Steve Jobs expressed.
Another silver lining is creative expression. Think of programming as a mode of expression where kids will create games, interactions, presentations, animations and more… You name it! The simple fact of understanding how a piece of technology works already enhances one’s creativity as they will have to constantly find unique innovations to make their systems work. Also, learning to code will make them better writers. There is common ground between programming and writing as coding pushes them to execute a complex idea in a simple way – which good writers do too.
As like everything, there are always contradictory opinions or perceived pitfalls. Coding may spark excitement for some; but also fear for others. Some argue that, in contrary to what was mentioned above…
1.Coding will not help kids develop human skills
- just computational ones. John C Dvorak from The New York Times writes: “A second grader should be running around, throwing a ball, scratching out drawings, learning fine motor skills and developing normal interpersonal social skills”.
Constantly facing a computer screen will not help them develop their human skills.
2.Computers do not belong in the classroom
As you can imagine, there is a lot to argue on the matter. Some people believe that computers don’t belong in classrooms as they dilute the interaction between teacher and student. The internet becomes a source of distraction for kids and memorisation skills weaken without handwritten notes.
3. Computer coding is too advanced
Some argue that computer coding is too advanced for children. It is too complex and requires too many binary patterns. They believe the concepts are too difficult and require a very thorough multi-tasking ability, which young children don’t have just yet.
4. Computer coding is not the key to success
“What will make kids successful in this tech-driven world is whether they can think – creatively, innovatively, and expansively – and that is accomplished through free, unstructured play”
says Jim Taylor, PhD, Author of Raising Generation Tech: Preparing Your Child for a Media-Fuelled World. He believes that there is a specific time and place to learn to code, and that early coding isn’t the answer.
While coding may not be perceived as future academic and career success for everyone, it’s important to bear in mind that times and mentalities have changed. In other words, to argue that computers do not belong in a classroom – or that coding is too advanced for kids – is perhaps a reflection of traditional thinking. Chances are, if you ask a kid if he would prefer using a computer at school, he would immediately say “yes” with motivation and enthusiasm. Using computers is meant to make students more eager to learn, give them more freedom to express themselves, and to figure out what they are good at.
In this day and age, a child’s knowledge of coding will be useful, regardless of which career path he/she may choose to take. Specifically, in Hong Kong, kids have more access to coding – perhaps because it is one of the world’s best wired cities or simply because of the number of coding classes readily available in the city. Computer coding can be applicable anywhere – as it is simply the magic behind any form of technology. Mitch Resnick, in his Ted Talk, Let’s Teach Kids to Code said “Kids are not learning to code, they’re coding to learn.” This quote sums it up exactly: the acknowledgment that coding will unfold into learning many different things that your child would otherwise not have learned. In other words, coding skills are not just technical they are life skills. Just be sure to respect your child’s pace and show support throughout the process. Embrace it – let today’s consumer become the future creator!
Coding Classes in Hong Kong
Offering classes and holiday camps for children from the age of four, Koding Kingdom is dedicated to teaching students the fundamentals of computer coding in a fun and interactive environment. www.kodingkingdom.com
First Code Academy
Through an age-appropriate curriculum with a combination of concepts and project-based learning, students build a solid foundation knowledge and acquire STEM, coding, and design thinking skills. https://hk.firstcodeacademy.com
Creative Coding offers fun STEAM based courses which are thoughtfully designed. Children will also explore coding through robotics, using a Design First approach to teach them design thinking and problem solving. www.creativecoding.hk
Coding101 was established by a group of IT and education professionals who aim at providing the best quality STEM and coding education to school children, offering many workshops from robotics to coding to Minecraft education. www.coding101.hk
BSD Academy focuses on making technology an enabler for youth, teaching multiple coding languages to build games, websites and robots. https://hk.bsdacademy.com
Tynker, where millions have learned to code, teaches children to make apps and games, fly drones, learn Python, and so much more. Offering workshops for all levels of experience from the age of seven. www.tynker.com
Dalton Learning Lab
Dalton Learning Lab offers courses involving STEAM for children aged four-13, with an emphasis on developing useful, future-ready skills applicable to the real world. All courses are taught by real professionals under the guidance of professional educators. www.daltonlearninglab.com