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Should Children Learn How to Code at School?

Published on March 16, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

If you have been following the technology and/or education news with any kind of regularity over the past few months, you will have seen one story cropping up several times. The UK Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced that he wants to get rid of ‘boring’ ICT lessons in schools and open up the curriculum, giving universities and leading industry figures more say in what gets taught in the classroom.

The idea behind this is that children are not currently leaving school with all the ICT skills they need in order to get by in an increasingly tech-reliant world. This isn’t just about teaching the next generation of web designers the tricks of the trade – it’s also about ensuring our children have the essential skills they need when they enter the adult world of work.

In one respect, the idea of teaching children more about code and how computers work is quite innovative – and in another way, it is also a return to traditional ICT teaching. This report from the BBC points out that back in the 1980s, computers weren’t as clever as they are now, and so an understanding of code was vital if you wanted to be able to operate one properly. Now we seem to have come full circle despite the fact computers are smarter than ever before.

The report mentioned above also provides an interesting insight into what children themselves think of their ICT lessons at the moment. 28% reportedly think that it makes sense to make changes to the curriculum, while 35% don’t think their current lessons are dull.

Arguably, one of the challenges involved with introducing a more innovative ICT curriculum into schools is the fact that not all ICT teachers are trained specialists. Nationally, only about a third of them are, which suggests there might be more reasons to explain why kids primarily learn about Word and Excel rather than coding their own websites than first meets the eye.

There is also the argument that not everyone wants to learn more innovative ICT skills – and some students are perfectly happy with the current curriculum. Just like all the other subjects children learn about at school, ICT is something that some students like much more than others. Some people have a natural affinity for it, while for others it will always be a challenge, and not one they are guaranteed to be interested in learning to master.

This suggests that even though bringing more coding lessons into the classroom might be a great way to give kids more skills and it should undoubtedly benefit those students with a keen interest in say, web design, and what goes on inside the computers, for others there is a danger that it might disengage them from the subject even further.

Despite all this, on balance it is probably fair to say that it is a good idea to teach a more diverse, in-depth ICT curriculum. We use an increasing range of computer-based technology and we rely on it to do more and more for us – when we are putting so much trust in a machine, it makes sense to have at least a basic understanding of what that machine is doing. In a similar way that it helps us to have an understanding of how the oven works even if we’re not a professional chef, so it can be useful to have a good idea about our computers even if we’re not a professional coder.

Also, coding is a serious business, and if students are serious about making a career in technology, years of grounding in the discipline from school is sure to be welcomed. However, this does suggest that rather than making advanced coding courses compulsory for everyone, there should be options available for students to choose from so they can pick a course that is more relevant to their needs and interests. After all, there’s no better way to turn kids off a subject than by forcing them to do it when they really don’t want to.

Overall, we can conclude that, yes, to a certain extent, children probably should learn more about coding in school. However, it’s not as simple as changing the curriculum, because our children’s ability to learn about coding depends on the skills and knowledge of the adults teaching them, as well as their own interests. So, while we should welcome the trend towards more innovative ICT lessons, it’s also important to remember that they need to cater for a wide range of people and, just like every other lesson in school, we need to make sure that no one gets left behind.


By Chelsey Evans

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