Is Teaching Children to Code a stupid idea?


Participants in Kids In Technology & Science (KITS) Learning about computing, programming, and science at Champlain College

My internet circles are ablaze this morning with William Foxton’s article “The Government wants to teach all children how to code. Here’s why it’s a stupid idea“.

As a programmer and educator, I actually agree with many of his points. Not the dull weirdos part… most coders I know are not dull at all, but yeah we are weirdos. I’m okay with that. I’m a bit of a weirdo and so were most of my role models.

I also agree with the important point that teaching coding well is an extremely difficult task. We cannot expect the average primary teacher to do it well (it is just not in their skill-set) and bad education is far worse than no education. How many times have you met someone that says, “I hate math(s)“? Ask them why and it always comes down to a particular teacher. It’s always, “Actually when I was in primary school I loved it until Mr. SoAndSo’s class” Of course the problem is that mathematics is sequential. If you miss an important step, it becomes practically impossible to understand anything after that.

What we NEED to do, is have an education system that shows kids that programming (more importantly, logical problem solving) is great fun. If they get that, then they’ll do great in whatever career ambition they have.

When I teach children about technology (which I do regularly), I start with games like Light-bot. After 10 minutes of that I then say, “If you enjoyed that… you’d likely make a great programmer”.

But Foxton concludes his article with, “If a school subject is to be taught to everyone, it needs to have a vital application in everyday life – and that’s just not true of coding”

KITSThat’s the worst criterion for creating an educated society I have ever heard. Of course coding doesn’t have a vital application in everyday life. Neither does Algebra, Physics, Calculus, Chemistry, Trigonometry, World History, Literature, The Arts, or Biology.

The advantage of teaching beyond “vital applications to everyday life” is to ensure our children can become contributing members to society, able to make careers from their talents, pursue their interests, make educated decisions as part of the electorate, and generally become contributing members to the human experience.

Using programming as one more tool for teaching problem-solving is a great idea, if done well. And while the lack of teachers is an issue, lets acknowledge that fact and then do some problem-solving of our own to improve it.

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