For years, students around the world took typing classes, first with typewriters then with computer keyboards. This class was designed to help students develop the real world skills they needed to thrive after graduation. However, now knowing home row is less important than understanding HTML, and an employer will be much more excited to see “Java” on a resume than “types 120 words per minute.”
As computer technology becomes more ingrained in every aspect of students’ lives, and likely in their future careers, many are advocating for basic and advanced computer coding courses to be taught in schools just like typing classes were.
Aside from developing students’ computer science skills, teaching coding in elementary, middle, and high school may help children better understand the world around them.
Some of the advantages to including a course of basic coding, such as HTML, are straightforward. Students would be learning a new skill that is the basis of the language that web pages and software are built on.
However, some people are critical of teaching just basic code because software today is made with more complex code, and students would be more marketable with exposure to less elementary coding methods.
Tim Bajarin, a tech industry consultant who first advocated for requiring coding classes in middle schools in 2014, argued in Time magazine that there should be a two‐step teaching process. First to teach coding, then to change thinking.
First, students should learn basic coding in middle school. Then, high school students would build off of this early education and learn more advanced coding. This would allow students to develop the skills that would make them better prepared for a modern technology job and allow them to develop their computational thinking.
Computational thinking is a method of thought that is used in computer sciences, but experts argue that it can also influence the way students solve any problem. Teaching coding may help improve the way students think about nearly everything.
In the United Kingdom, the Year of the Code initiative started in 2014, advocating for more coding to be taught in schools and using its resources to train teachers and promote its new curricula.
Dan Crow, Ph.D., chief technology officer of Songkick and advisor to the Year of Code, explained in The Guardian that one of the greatest benefits to students learning coding wasn’t that every career will use this skill, but that computational thinking will only become more important for students as computers become a greater part of everyone’s lives.
“Computational thinking teaches you how to tackle large problems by breaking them down into a sequence of smaller, more manageable problems. It allows you to tackle complex problems in efficient ways that operate at huge scale … Computational thinking is a skill that everyone should learn. Even if you never become a professional software engineer, you will benefit from knowing how to think this way,” Crow wrote.
This type of thought is used in fields ranging from engineering to music, and the combination of computational thinking and code controls many basic aspects of modern life, such as phone calls, health records, and network‐connected home heating.
The students of Haynes Elementary School in Texas put the logic‐based, step by step instructions of computational thinking into practice when the school participated the Hour of Code program. As the Killeen Daily Herald reported, students would spend an hour a day for two weeks using computer programs and help from aides to complete simple tasks on the computer by using code.
Students would move blocks through mazes or draw irregular shapes on the computer as a method of learning basic coding. These programs, such as Lightbot, allow teachers to engage elementary age students in writing and using code, showing them the power of computer code and how their favorite computer games are made, KDH news explained.
Killeen is just one of many schools beginning to adopt these teaching practises, if only temporarily. Many parents are also undertaking the task of teaching children about coding through very basic devices and games.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation pointed to a number of code‐teaching programs and devices that can help even young children get involved with their hour of coding such as LEGO WeDo, MIT’s Scratch, and the Tynker app. Not only do games give students a chance to learn code, but learning coding allows young children to actually design their own games, the CBC noted.
The CBC also pointed to tech for older students, such as Raspberry Pi, which encourages computer learning and coding experimentation.
Other students are learning coding at camps and after school activities. Camp STEM in Gallatin, Tennessee, helped students learn coding with apps during their spring break, according to the Tennessean. Students as young as 9 years old used the Scratch app to control cartoon characters’ actions by adding lines of code through the interface. It teaches students the method of coding.
Through the iPad, students not only learned about how coding could work, but also got excited about the process. Students told the Tennessean they liked “coding a lot.”
The tech industry and a number of other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields have struggled with gender imbalance issues for years, where men make up overwhelming majorities of the workforce. However, teaching coding to more people at a younger age may be an answer to this problem.
Fast Company magazine recently pointed to fashion model Karlie Kloss and her experience with learning coding in 2014 before starting college. Kloss thoroughly enjoyed the programming course she took before starting classes at Flatiron. She continued to study coding while also starting the Kode with Klossy coding camps and scholarships to bring more young women into the programming world.
The physical and online camps encourage collaboration among students as they learned. Kloss explains that learning coding in these camps doesn’t just improve women’s coding skills but also their mindset about their technological abilities.
“The first few days are really challenging and then it all kind of starts to click, and then you all of a sudden are able to build things and write lines of code and it’s all making sense,” Kloss told Fast Company. “It’s really an exciting and empowering feeling, and it’s really cool to watch these young women do it. It kind of totally changes their thought of what they think they’re capable of within this space.”
If more students are exposed to coding at a younger age, as part of their normal education, like typing was, it may increase the number of students who pursue careers in STEM.