Computing skills as essential as maths, reading and writing

ART_7058Even young children need to learn how technology works and how to create it, not simply how to use it.

At the start of Computer Science Education Week (8-14 December), Associate Professor Katrina Falkner and her computing science colleagues at the University of Adelaide, drew attention to the benefits of coding skills for children.

Computing skills are becoming as essential as maths, reading and writing. Children in primary school and much younger can benefit from exposure to coding and ‘pre-coding’ skills development.

Among events for Computer Science Education Week is an ‘Hour of Code’ held around the world to promote coding and computational thinking, for children from 4 to 104.

But how young is too young? According to Wired Magazine, one computer scientist’s success in the early part of this century teaching code to children as young as eight years lead him to coding experiments with even younger children. J. Paul Gibson, then at the University of Ireland, now believes ‘you can start teaching computer science before students even know how to read and write’.

In the week that Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull officially launches ECA’s Digital Business Kit in Sydney, it’s a timely message.

Understanding code seems to have intrinsic value. It is not simply to feed a hungry technology workforce. Some brain development theorists believe learning coding helps the brain much the same way that language learning benefits children.

‘Early exposure to coding shows signs of improving … “computational thinking”—the ability to solve problems with abstract thinking.’ This benefits everyone, even children who go on to favour the humanities and literature over computing, maths and science.

Online coding programs and activities are a phenomenon that out of school hours services and vacation care programs can make use of to create programs and workshops that engage children’s budding interest.

Without going anywhere near a computer, very young children can build pre-coding skills through simple sorting tasks and pattern recognition puzzles. Try educational robotics such as Bee bots, pro bots, the sphero ball and, for older children, the ABC’s online resources and MIT’s Scratch to find fun and physical ways to develop young children’s design and computing skills.

Additional sources: Koerner, Brendan I, ‘Forget Foreign Languages and Music. Teach Our Kids to Code’, Wired Magazine 26 September 2013, retrieved on 8 December 2014 from  www.wired.com/2013/09/ap_code/

Mayo, Leni, ‘Coding crisis: getting tech skills taught in schools’, ABC Technology and Games, 8 October 2013, retrieved on 8 December 2014 from www.abc.net.au/technology/articles/2013/10/08/3864305.htm 

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Clare McHugh

Clare McHugh is a Project Manager in ECA’s Learning Hub. She is responsible for the Digital Business Kit, exploring possibilities for technology in the early childhood sector, and for Start Early, an initiative to develop long term strategies that prevent domestic and family violence. Clare has been thinking and writing about children, family and social policy for many years, including previously for the Commonwealth Child Care Advisory Council and the Australian government. Her background is in psychology and professional writing. She has worked in adult development and group facilitation, employer sponsored child care, family relationships and in the publishing industry. Outside of ECA Clare continues several writing and publishing projects through her freelance business.

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