Not just teaching coding: you are forming the citizen of the future

Versión en español de esta columna

Programming teaching has reached a worldwide issue. There’s a lot of countries that have adopted programming and Computer Science education in schools (K-12) as a State policy (Schulte, et al., 2014, European Schoolnet, 2015). But, what’s behind those initiatives? Can really a kid learn programming? Why teaching programming now, if probably what he’d learn will fall in obsolescence when he grows up? Isn’t kind of sad ignoring real world for a digital one?

All those questions make a lot of sense, and they have gone through the discussions around the pertinence of introducing programming and coding education to younger generations, however much of it relies on unfounded images, and prejudices about what involves digital technologies and innovation nowadays.

Roughly we can group reasons to support coding education in schools on three categories: by its pedagogical effects, its learning process, and the ongoing social change.

1) Pedagogical effects.

Programming education has a positive effect on cognitive development and the learning process. There’s vast scientific evidence about the positive impact on young, especially in early ages, the contact with contents and programming languages (Gibson, 2012). Among them we can find improvements on concepts and abstractions understanding capabilities –key for physics and mathematical studies. On the other hand develops the logical sequential thinking, since it is a fundamental part of correct code performance.

At the time, international experiences on programming in schools, has shown that the earlier and more often the introduction of this contents, the greater the propensity in students to look for computer-based problem-solving (Syslo & Kwiatkowska, 2015), besides the academic area (humanities, sciences, math, and so on). This has opened a brand pedagogical approach that understands programming as a mechanism for learning process modernization, in which knowledge became an instance of creation with the student taking active participation, distinguishing what he do or do not understand, and letting him explore and exploit his intellectual capabilities independently while follows own mental process (Papert, 1980).

2) Learning process

It’s fun, versatile, relatively easy and a long life skill. Gone are those times in which programming languages where just a dull frame of weirds symbols. Innovative and education-committed minds had developed a wide range of programming learning tools trough new free interfaces, open to everyone, nice and for all ages.

“Drag and drop” blocks programming languages it’s the new fashion. Those are interfaces in which the user manipulates digital Lego-like pieces with his mouse, each one with different orders and commands, whose combination can generate from simple 2D videogames, like a virtual ping-pong, to more complex applications for smartphones or digital tablets. Although the real Python or JavaScript way of coding (to mention a couple), still seems like the old fashion dull frame and symbols, block programming keeps a very close relation, alleviating the dialog among styles (Resnick, et al., 2009). Some professional programmers use both tools, as a visual support to ease the development of his projects.

Also, given the huge amount of commands and possible combinations between blocks, its uses can be extended and complement any kind of activity. From basic algebraic, arithmetic operations (which’s saying a lot), to musical creation and composition, illustration, design, painting and so on, so forth. For example, game and application development allow conjugating the artistic part, with character and scenario design, literary part, with a storytelling feature or content that support application, and logical skill, with the elaboration of triggers commands.

Is not that every child should pursues a programming/computer science career, but to have a baseline that allows them to adapt and coevolving with a tech environment that permeates the whole society. Much of the more famous computers pro, self-formed without internet, smartphones, or even email, but been impregnated with basic computer lineaments, allows them to dialog and comprehend the language of transformation in the area, contributing with their own (Partelow, 2016).

3) Social Transformations

The administrative, political, economic, productive, and labor environment will be write on programming languages. Social and global economic scholars had severely warned us about the changes that technological advanced are generating worldwide right in front of us. Information technologies are creating jobs that never existed before every day, while at the same time others obsolesce trough automatization (Arntz, et al., 2016).

Big data, drones, robots, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, 3D printers, Self-driving cars –words you may heard more than once-, are concepts increasingly used on industry, whose scope are recently being seized and massify unexcitingly fast (WEF, 2016). A lot of countries report that is the most rising and demanded market sector, as there are more and more computing companies, at the time that old ones had have to open and follow the trend to stay competitive (Haug, 2016); been this area the ones that concentrate most of the highly payed professionals, with flexible schedules and skills, and an enviable work/life balance (US News, 2016, WEF, 2016).

On the other hand, democratic systems are relaying on virtual mechanisms to get a better picture of interest and necessities of their citizens, to generate wellbeing and environment protection policies; at the time, companies use huge amount of data to evaluate his customers, and perform product personalization (The Economist, 2016). Those processes had penetrated the civil society comprehension. The same way in which it is necessary for every one getting to know the mechanism, institutions, laws, and powers that rule societies, nowadays emerge new types of virtual citizen expressions, like those related to personal data management, transmission and protection on the web (Vuorikari, et al., 2016).

Technologies and algorithms are not neutrals, while there’s someone coding behind, perfectly they can transmit his own racial, religious or classist bias, among others (Angwin, et al., 2016). That way, a financial institution could deny a credit line to some clients because reasons outside one’s economical behavior, or the Government could implement policies that benefits a certain kind of people in detriment of others. Protecting the right to no discrimination and to social justice will involve also an understanding in data protection, and the code operating behind his processing (Goodman & Flaxman, 2016).

Fostering programming education in children will involve more than just handle a profitable skill or a “healthy” hobby, it’ll mean to prepare them for assuming the responsibilities of near future.

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References

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Syslo, M. & Kwiatkowska, A., 2015. “Introducing a New Computer Science Curriculum for All School Levels in Poland”. In: A. Brodnik & J. Vahrenhold, eds. Informatics in Schools. Curricula, Competence, and Competitions. Ljubljiana: Springer International Publishing, pp. 141–154.

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