Steve Jobs once famously said “a computer is the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds” and that “everyone should learn how to program a computer… because it teaches you how to think.”
Those are profound statements made over 30 years ago by one of the most renowned technology pioneers the world has ever seen. At the time the Apple founder’s comments sounded outlandish, but now in the 21st century with the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence (AI), we are at the doorsteps of realizing the real power of computing.
Jobs’ bicycle analogy was a nod to the computer’s ability to amplify the power of the human brain. His programming comment also showed a deep appreciation for the unlimited potential of humans to interact with information and technology.
Which is why many leaders and trend-setters from Bill Gates to Ashton Kutcher to Barack Obama all agree on one thing – everyone should learn how to code.
But why should everyone learn to code? And should programming be deemed as an essential skill on the same level as reading and writing?
This is a widely debated topic with extensive arguments on both sides.
Maybe the argument against would have been more plausible at the time of Jobs’ comments. But it’s hard to justify in the 21st century, where technology is everywhere, helping to improve lives and addressing our daily needs.
Technology is arguably the biggest disruptive force in the world today. It’s playing a significant role in how diseases are diagnosed, how we shop online, how we communicate, how we travel, how we order food on a day to day basis and a myriad of other things.
Coders are on the front lines of this revolution–forging ideas, changing the world and disrupting the status quo. This is the main reason why so many prominent personalities are evangelizing ‘everyone should learn how to code.’
They, like many others, believe it’s a necessary skill for tomorrow’s workforce.
The key word is TOMORROW.
Children are our future, and many believe teaching kids how to code is an essential thing we can do right now to ensure it’s a bright one.
Vice Chair of Creative Commons Esther Wojcicki is one of many – “All students in the 21st century need to have the opportunity to learn coding starting in elementary school.”
The idea of coding becoming a core subject taught at the elementary level all over the world is already in motion, however slowly. It’s already being taught in unique ways in countries such as England and Australia, who are currently leading the initiative.
But what can kids really gain from learning to code?
Let’s face it, coding might not be for everyone, but it’s a skill that has limitless benefits that can be learned by anyone at any age.
Being an expert at coding is like having a superpower in today’s world. Programming languages are the building blocks of virtually all the tech we use today. No wonder coding is a highly valued skill in today’s ever more digital job market.
Currently, there is a deficiency in the tech industry – 71% of new STEM jobs are in computing. But only 8% of STEM graduates are in Computer science, according to code.org.
So possessing coding skills can be an easy route into an open field of work.
In fact, in the foreseeable future, it might be one of the easiest ways to get employed.
There is widespread trepidation that the imminent ubiquity of artificial intelligence (AI) could displace more than half of the human workforce by 2025.
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), machines could force 75 million people out of jobs as early as 2022 – doubling the current 29 percent of robots taking over jobs.
Yes, in some aspects the robots will take over, but someone will have to build and program them. Therefore the need for computer science skills will only increase in the future.
So having coding as a string to their bow will automatically give them a leg up on the competition in a very competitive job market.
The competitive advantage of possessing this desirable skill also extends to education.
Educational institutions are more likely to offer scholarships to candidates with coding literacy. Since the skill of programming takes dedication and mental acuity to acquire, those who are fluent in a programming language are seen as more intelligent and resilient.
Learning how to code requires determination and perseverance, which helps to build discipline. Kids who are able to solve coding problems repeatedly are usually more disciplined as they are less likely to give up until a solution is found.
This discipline comes in handy when studying other subjects.
Furthermore, programmers are seen as creative, because they solve problems and design programs from scratch to serve a specific purpose.
The Four C’s of 21st Century skills have created quite a buzz in education in the last few years. The combination is deemed as a critical learning strategy to prepare our students for the 21st-century workplace and beyond.
Here is why each of these skills is so important, and how kids can develop each one by learning how to code.
Critical Thinking – is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, and or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication.
Critical thinking empowers students to separate fact from opinion and discover for themselves the truth in assertions.
Like any skill set, critical thinking can be developed with practice.
Coding is like an exercise session for the left side of the human brain – where the logic magic takes place.
Logic, problem-solving, and organization are some of the cornerstones of programming, and practicing writing code helps to exercise that left side of the brain, boosting problem-solving and logic skills.
Creativity – is the practice of thinking outside the box. While creativity is seen mainly as an innate talent, like critical thinking, it’s a skill that can also be developed.
Students can learn to be creative by doing something that has never been done before or by solving problems.
The point of creativity in computer science is not about being artistic, it’s about encouraging a person to think differently – to look at a problem from multiple perspectives, including those that others may not see.
Creativity works best in combination with the following 21st Century skill.
Collaboration – as the saying goes ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’ Collaboration is the practice of a group of people working together to achieve a common goal. This is an important element of programming because most big projects usually require a collaborative effort.
This is so because we are all unique in some way. We might share kindred spirits with some people amongst us but won’t always have the same ideas.
Working on coding projects from an early age will help to develop interpersonal skills. The ability to work with others is a major requirement in the professional world as virtually every job requires some form of collaboration at some point.
Practicing collaboration also helps kids understand how to address a problem, pitch solutions, and decide the best course of action.
Communication – is the practice of imparting or exchanging information by using various mediums such as speaking or writing.
Coding is an expressive medium for kids to practice sharing narratives. When kids learn how to code they become better at efficiently conveying ideas.
Dynamic communication that uses a variety of mediums is becoming increasingly common in today’s society. Kids need to learn how to articulate their ideas by using digital tools to share information.
All of these four C’s are vital to a child’s future as being proficient in reading, writing and math skills won’t cut it anymore.
There is now a significant emphasis on employees to think creatively, collaborate and communicate effectively to solve problems with minimal supervision.
Today’s workplace requires different competencies because many jobs have evolved requiring critical thinking to resolve new challenges that never existed before. In fact, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist, according to the U.S. Department of Labor report.
When children learn how to code they will acquire these and other valuable skill sets, equipping them not only for the 21st-century workplace but also in their daily lives.