5 year olds coding?

Everyone should learn how to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.” It has now been 20 years since Steve Jobs said those words.

Britain became the first G7 country to introduce compulsory computer science on the school curriculum for all children aged 5 to 16. By the age of 7, all children will now be expected to be capable of writing and debugging a simple program. By 11, some will be exploring computing concepts once considered appropriate for undergraduates.

And there you were thinking they were just going to be doing a bit of colouring.

The idea that mastering code is as essential to a successful start in life as numeracy and literacy is starting to take hold of British parents. Christmas stockings from now on will be stuffed with “smart toys” — brightly coloured programmable plastic robots, apps and even board games that promise to give kids a head start on coding.

The changes were made because a high-quality computing education equips students to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and contribute to the development of the world. Computing has deep links with mathematics, science and design and technology, and provides insights into both natural and artificial systems. The core of computing is computer science, in which pupils are taught the principles of information and computation, how digital systems work and how to put this knowledge to use through programming. Buildings on this knowledge and understanding, pupils are equipped to use information technology to create programs, systems and a range of content. Computing also ensures that pupils become digitally literate — able to use, to express themselves and develop their ideas through, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) at a level suitable for the future workplace and as active participants in a digital world.

Just as years of compulsory English lessons failed to make novelists of most parents, coding lessons in school will not turn every child into a programmer. But the idea behind the new government initiatives is that new generations of children will not have to struggle through bootcamps in midlife, because those with an aptitude for coding will have discovered it at an early stage. And those who are less talented, it is thought, will at least gain an understanding of the digital world in which they now live.

“If you teach computing and do it right, you can help children develop their learning in literacy and numeracy”.
“To me, the basic idea of computing is you have to get a computer to solve a problem: you have to come up with an algorithm, a set of instructions. If you can do that, it’s a hugely valuable skill whenever you’re working as a team for any kind of project”.

Both quoted by Bill Mitchell, director of education at BCS (British Computing society)

National Curriculum

Key Stage 1 (5–6 year-olds): Pupils will be learning what algorithms are, which will not always involve computers. When explained as “a set of instructions” teachers may illustrate the idea using recipes, or by breaking down the steps of children’s morning routines. But they will also be creating and debugging simple programs of their own, developing logical reasoning skills and taking their first steps in using devices to: create, organise, store, manipulate and retrieve digital content.

Key Stage 2 (7–11 year-olds): Slightly older primary-school children will be creating and debugging more complicated programs with specific goals and getting to grips with concepts including variables and “sequence, selection, and repetition in programs”. They will still be developing their logical reasoning skills and learning to use websites and other Internet services. There will be more practice at using devices for collecting, analysing and presenting back data and information.

Key Stage 3 (11–14 year-olds): Once the student enters secondary school they will be using two or more programming languages, at least one of which is textual, to create their own programs. Schools and teachers will be free to choose the specific languages and coding tools. Pupils will be learning simple Boolean logic (the AND, OR and NOT operators, for example), working with binary numbers, and studying how computer hardware and software work together.

Skills Gap

Teaching programming skills to younger generation is seen as a long-term solution to the “skills gap” between the numbers of technology jobs and the people qualified to fill them. Members of the British Computer Society (BCS) and the Royal Academy of Engineering drew up the new programme, with a fresh emphasis on computer science, and specifically on coding and computational thinking. It is a move that could redress years of neglect and close urgent IT skills gap, but are schools ready to handle the change?

The new focus on coding has also meant boom times for organisations such as Codecademy.

Since it was founded three years ago, 25 million people have taken its courses.

One of the biggest groups of applicants were teachers, desperate to polish their digital skills.

So does Codecademy think that they will be able to equip teachers with the skills they need? I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out sooner or later.

Stay tuned for more…

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