An Hour of Code – The Benefits of Teaching Coding in School
In the groundbreaking 1967 film “The Graduate,” newly minted college graduate Benjamin Braddock is unsure about what to do with his life. During a homecoming party hosted for him by his parents, Braddock receives some career advice from family friend Mr. McGuire. “Plastics….There’s a great future in plastics,” offers Mr. McGuire, before walking away from the aimless young man. This memorable line from a work of fiction foreshadowed the real-life phenomenal growth of the plastics industry in the 1970s.
I was reminded of that scene when I first read about the Hour of Code, a global movement aimed at giving school children a head start in computer science-related careers. If I could be the Mr. McGuire to the hundreds of millions of young students all over the world today, I’d give them this sage piece of advice: “Coding. It is the wave of the future. And the future is now.” Okay, that’s not exactly inspiring or original, but my point still stands. Vacancies in information technology jobs are growing faster than they can be filled, and the Hour of Code wants to help close that gap, among other things. Started by Code.org, the Hour of Code is a global initiative that encourages schools, students, teachers–practically everyone–to take the organization’s one-hour introductory lesson in computer programming, or coding. They want to show that anyone, regardless of age and aptitude, can learn the basics of coding, and that learning to read and write code helps develop skills that are valuable to any future career.
Coding helps nurture creativity. By knowing how to code, a student can build his own website or create her own game. But why stop there? Kids can learn how to program robots that dance to music or navigate a maze. The next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates might already be writing his first app as we speak. Coding also fosters problem-solving skills by encouraging the student to think in more analytical ways. A student can learn to look at a problem and break into down into small, manageable components. Writing and debugging code helps students identify patterns, locate and correct errors, improve upon existing solution blocks, or devise new ways to solve old problems.
In my country, the Philippines, Hour of Code events have been spearheaded mostly by private high schools and universities. The low participation of elementary schools might be due to the misconception that coding is beyond the grasp of younger students and the dismal inadequacy of facilities in public schools. Partnerships between the government and private sectors can help raise awareness of the Hour of Code movement, as well as equip schools with the tools and manpower they need to take the Hour of Code initiative beyond the one hour challenge.
Technology has forever changed the way we live. Dismissal time at my son’s school finds kids as young as four excitedly tapping and swiping on their parents’ cellphone screens. Anybody can now tweet the Pope. Social media have spurred revolutions that toppled repressive regimes. If all the hours my son wastes playing Minecraft were devoted to learning to play the guitar, he’d be a world-class virtuoso by ten. We are all consumers of technology. Isn’t it time we created some of it as well?