Why kids should learn how to code
Learning to write programs stretches your mind, helps you think better, and creates a way of thinking about things that I think is helpful in all domains,” said the creator of Microsoft, Bill Gates.
It was in October 2011 when Thomas Suarez stood onstage in front of the bright lights and cameras to give his first TED talk in Manhattan beach, California. He was wearing a light blue, untucked button-up dress shirt and khaki pants. He had an iPad in his left hand to control the Keynote slides behind him.
His TED Talk was about the importance of giving children the opportunity to learn coding and develop apps. He said, “A lot of kids these days like to play games, but now they want to make them.” In fact, he added, “I made a few apps for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.”
Suarez was 12 years old. He was probably the youngest to give a TED Talk during that time.
The boy whiz said he was inspired by Steve Jobs, which motivated him to learn and use the iPhone’s software development kit to create Apple apps. “I’ve started an App Club at my school that a teacher there is kindly sponsoring,” he said.
If this 12-year-old boy could learn and create an Apple application, it makes sense to me that we should also consider including coding, known as computer programming, as a required subject for all high school and college students.
I think the subject is 10 times more powerful than sociology, history or calculus, because coding is the language of technology, which is the engine that is propelling us to rapid progress in the 21st century.
Why is coding critical to many aspect of our students’ lives? When a child, or even an adult, learns coding, it gives her or him a boost of self-confidence, first of all, because coding is largely seen as difficult to learn and understand. Self-confidence leads to increased motivation, which then prods one to learn and create more.
Coding, aside from the psychological boost, also teaches other practical skills that have nothing to do with computer programming. For instance, learning to code either in Apple iOS and Android programs can improve critical and computational thinking skills, as well as one’s sense of autonomy and creativity, qualities needed by digital natives.
When coding is learned, this skill can translate to success in other fields, because the process of learning how to program a software is the same method that teaches students to think logically and visually, which are critical skills for creating any object or service they want.
When a teacher teaches math or physics, they don’t do it with the express intention to make their students mathematicians or physicists, but to teach them that the process of learning these subjects will help them think better. The same applies when teachers teach coding, which can bring about more creators and designers.
Computer science college graduates and computer programming jobs earn more than those in many other industries nowadays. I have a friend whom I helped learn Apple iOS programming at our place about five years ago; he resigned from a full-time job to become a freelance programmer, and now earns more than P80,000 a month.
To compete globally, we have to rewire our educational system from the traditional curriculum that makes our children good in memorization of facts, but lacking in critical thinking and creativity. Coding is the critical wiring material to make our students successful in the 21st century.
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Leonardo Leonidas, MD, was assistant clinical professor in pediatrics (retired in 2008) at Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston.
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