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Should Our Kids Be Coding?

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Unlike other jobs, parenthood doesn’t come with performance reviews.

This job doesn’t have measurable KPI’s or quarterly reports, nor is there a clear definition of success. Not to mention that parenting is hard. We are trying to raise kids in a rapidly changing environment and we don’t know what the world is going to look like by the time our little bundles of joy set off into it. The one thing we do know for certain is that IT is growing across all industries worldwide, and will continue to grow. But what does this mean for our kids?

Most parents I know continually question their child-related choices. The food we prepare. Our level of discipline. Our style of communication. Too much screen-time. Which afterschool activities to choose. How can we future-proof our kids like we try to future-proof our businesses? What can we invest in for our kids in order to equip them with the skills and qualities they’ll need to succeed in the future?

Is it time we start teaching kids to code? Experts say Computer Science knowledge is going to be critical to the success of the future generation. So, should we get our kids onto the coding journey now?

I am the mother to a highly intelligent four-year-old boy (maybe I’m slightly biased), and I’m always questioning myself and wondering if I’m doing enough to prepare him for success in the future. Being a Client Manager for Beyond Recruitment – IT & Transformation, in the midst of this ever-changing, fast-growing industry, and witnessing the transformations, trends, and rapidly increasing demand for talent in this space I have no doubt that exposing kids to coding early-on is a great idea. Our kids are like sponges; they should be soaking up basic principles of coding instead of watching those horrible toy-review videos that make your skin crawl!

How Can I Teach My Kid to Code When I Don't Know How to Code?

But wait, what if parents don’t know how to start teaching their child how to code? The biggest reason being that most parents don't know how to code themselves. Well, good news for us: there are several apps and courses available for kids both young and old. “Don't know coding? Don't sweat - we have simplified the concepts. Prior Coding knowledge is NOT needed.” – says Coding Palz, an award-winning book series that gets kids as young as 3 started on the computer coding journey. Based on the concept that kids love stories, Coding Palz created a series of books to teach kids programming terms and concepts through story books.

Their most popular title, “Hello Ruby,” is based on Json, Jazz & Ruby who are 3 curious pals who live in Codezilla town. They solve challenges using their coding ability and learn about four important programming concepts: Loops, Fonts, the “IF” conditional statement and Passwords.

If your kids are a bit older, there is an excellent resource available to Kiwi Kids ages 9-12 nationwide called Code Club Aotearoa; a free volunteer-led after-school network of clubs aimed at inspiring Kiwi Kids to learn to program, but also learn about computational thinking, problem solving, planning, designing and collaboration. Learning to work in a team to solve real world problems is one of the greatest skills students can leave Code Club with.

Coding in Schools

With volunteers hosting Code Clubs all throughout New Zealand schools, this begs the question: should the school system be involved in preparing our children for their future, and providing them with the resources and training they need to succeed? The school system is often under fire for it’s lack of transformation, slow uptake of technology and doubts around the relevance of the subject matter being taught – a topic that is gathering more and more steam in recent years.

In Britain, children as young as five are being taught simple computer programming as part of the new syllabus for the national curriculum. Children aged five to seven are required to create and debug simple computer programs in the first two years of school, as part of lessons designed to stop English pupils falling behind their peers in other countries. Why should Kiwi Kids be left to fall behind?

At the moment, coding is optional in New Zealand schools and the uptake is limited since it was introduced at NCEA level in 2011.

"A lot of students still think coding is just for the greasy-haired geek at the back of the class," says Renea Mackie, who introduced coding as part of the UPT Digital class at Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti in 2009.

"In reality, learning to code today is what learning to use a pen used to be. There are not many industries left that don't rely on technology, so coding is essential in being able to communicate. There's something in it for every student."

Like Mackie, Michael Walmsley, the founder of Code Avengers, is trying to tackle resistance around coding in New Zealand schools.

"The current digital technologies course in New Zealand is an optional subject, and the numbers of students taking the subject are low," he says.

"There are a number of reasons for this, including a lack of exposure to coding, a misconception that coding is for 'geeky' guys, and parents don't realise the value of the course. They don't realise that it is much more than learning Microsoft Office."

Various schools, such as St Bede's in Christchurch and Auckland's Avondale College, have realised the value in learning to code and are actively promoting digital technologies under years 11-13 curriculums. "It is crucial that all students receive some early exposure to coding, ideally at primary or intermediate school," says Walmsley.


However, introducing our youth to coding is far easier said than done, and comes with a number of different questions; what programming language should be used? Who will teach the classes? I recently had a lengthy conversation with a highly respected and experienced Python developer who had recently become a father to a beautiful baby girl and I put the question to him of whether or not he would support programming as part of the New Zealand school curriculum. His main concern was who would teach the class and whether they would be passionate about it. He referred to a very unenthusiastic maths teach he had in primary school, and as a result he despised maths until much later in life. His concern was that if a child’s learning journey started off on a bad foot that it would put them off the idea of learning to code as opposed to getting them into it.

There are many curriculums that have already been developed specifically for primary school children. Pythonroom is a curriculum developed by programming instructors to bring coding to the classroom, only needing a browser to run, and thus being suitable for a multitude of desktops and mobile devices. It provides an ideal jump start for kids to start learning coding with step-by-step lessons.

Python was chosen because the language's clean, readable and English sounding syntax makes it easy for someone not familiar with coding to get started. That aside, Python is also a fully featured, general purpose programming language with which you can do just about anything: Mathematics, Data science, Statistics, Automation, Natural language processing, Artificial intelligence – you name it.

Why Should My Child Learn to Code?

Since the inception of the internet, web programming has been a popular and in-demand skill. With today’s web-driven society, programming for the web will only continue its upward trend. Sites such as Udemy, as well as online and on-site bootcamps make learning web programming easy and accessible. Moreover, programming teaches many excellent general life habits. Coding teaches you how to think.

Code Club Aotearoa says “Learning to code is an important skill living in a digital age. It’s not just enough for children to know how to use technology. Each child, regardless of their background, should have the chance to explore the endless possibilities technology provides to them. Every student in New Zealand deserves the opportunity to decide for themselves whether a career in IT is something they want to pursue. Through learning to design and code real world solutions, working with others with different skill sets, and interacting with volunteers from the IT industry, students can make future career decisions based on first-hand experience.

“We want to break the perception that coding is some ’exceptional skill‘ that only few people can master – Code Club is for everyone and we believe every child can benefit from joining our clubs as they will learn so much more than how to “train their computer” to follow their commands. Code Clubs are fun; they give children a sense of accomplishment and encourage “big ideas”.

Finally, there are more jobs then there are qualified graduates in New Zealand, and the IT industry is still heavily male-dominated. These are two major issues that we might be able to solve by giving young children an early introduction to coding by incorporating programming into the school curriculum and making it compulsory for all primary-school children, in order to address both the skills shortage and the equality issue. I believe this topic needs more support than what it’s getting. By exposing children to programming at an early age, we can guarantee that there will be more Kiwis coding and the next generation will have New Zealand leaping ahead in terms of technological advancements across all industries.

This skill is vital not just to the creation of websites and apps, but to industries like farming, where algorithms are used to decide where and when to plant crops; and finance, where markets follow rules that can be understood using procedural analysis. It can be applied in far further fields than just computer programming, and it is so vast that there is certainly something in it for everybody. But if schools aren’t teaching our kids to code yet, maybe we just need to take things into our own hands and start at home.

10 Resources to Help Your Kid Get Started with Coding

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