An article in the Guardian recently discussed the benefits of introducing coding into our school curriculum – as part of as wider revamp of the teaching of ICT or ‘computer science.’ At first, instinct suggests that this can only be a good thing. There are lots of clichés along the lines of ‘digital world’ and ‘networked future’ that get thrown around in the media, but being a bit clichéd doesn’t make them wrong.
The argument goes that coding is potentially one of the most important areas in which young people could benefit from gaining more insight. From social networking to cloud computing, both in our personal and professional lives, the outputs of computer science and coding are increasingly defining our lives. What was once geeky stuff, hidden away in specialised industries, is now part of everyday life. And this is only going to become more commonplace as digital signage defines advertising, microchips fill our cars, and we navigate our way through life with the help of clever little apps on our phones. If you don’t know how to control the systems you’re using, these systems are probably controlling you.
However, with all that said, I’m not sure how far down the line of introducing coding to the curriculum we would want to go. There is a danger of confusing something which is widely prevalent for something which everyone needs to understand. It seems obvious that having more relevant teaching of ‘computing sciences’ in schools – and from a young age too –is likely to be a huge advantage to the next generation when it comes to really being in control of their digital future. What is less certain is whether anything more than a superficial introduction to coding is desirable, at least until such a time as education is already forcing kids to make decisions about what they learn (e.g. GCSEs).
Programming lessons could provide many young people with a bright future, and can vastly elevate the level of capability the next generation has to understand the world in which they live. But it’s not the only important skill – entrepreneurial skills, customer relationship management capabilities, confidence in negotiation techniques and a host of other talents are also going to shape the future. It’s obvious that coding underpins so much of what we do in daily life. But it’s not the only thing. It is also moderated by another major trend in computing – making technology accessible so that the end user can better deploy their specialist skills.
The future for coders is more exciting than it has ever been. Mainstream enjoyment of ever-more engaging apps, games and websites has created an incredible opportunity for young people to have a future in software development. It’s absolutely right that we should provide a platform for them to capitalise on this, and make avenues available to learn these new skills. But is it enough of a necessary skill to become a core part of the curriculum in schools.