THE computer science education initiative, the ‘Hour of Code’, which runs from Dec 5 to 11 as part of The Computer Science Education Week, recorded it’s most successful year with millions of students from over 180 nations successfully completing an introductory lesson to computer coding.
The Hour of Code campaign was started by Code.org in 2013, to encourage students to participate in a one-hour interactive introductory lesson to computer science, designed to demystify computer coding, increase access to computer science education, and encourage more students to pursue technology careers. Since 2013, millions of students across the world have learnt the basics of computer coding, and thousands of schools have been inspired to add computer science classes to the regular curriculum.
Learning to write computer code is often considered something that only gamers, hackers and residents of Silicon Valley will find useful.
However, today’s students need to be introduced to the basics of computer coding so they can understand how computer programs work and develop the skills that will enable them to write their own programs, create their own websites and develop their own apps. Simply learning how to use popular software applications such as MS Office may have been sufficient for previous generations but it is simply not enough for today’s learners.
Furthermore, technological change is expected to create two million new jobs by 2020, while displacing many times that number; if students in this generation do not ‘speak code’, they will inevitably get left behind. Understanding how software works and being able to write code are skills which will be fundamental for the future workforce.
As Partovi, founder of Code.org explains, “Learning computer science is just as foundational as learning biology or chemistry. These days, learning what an algorithm is and how data is encrypted on the internet is just as important as learning how photosynthesis works.”
Globally there is a huge shortage of skilled employees who can fill computer science positions and this shortage will grow if more students are not introduced to the possibilities of working in the tech industry. The Hour of Code initiative also aims to close the tech gender gap, as Alaina Percival, CEO of Women Who Code, explains, “For young women, it’s important for them to understand that their ability to interact with technology is not restricted, and that they can be successful pursuing engineering careers.”
Furthermore all students should have the opportunity to learn how to code because, not only can it be a path to a rewarding career but because, as Steve Jobs famously explained, “it teaches you how to think”.
In 2016, the popularity of Code.org’s educational initiative has grown substantially across the Asia Pacific region with almost half a million students from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam getting the opportunity to participate.
At present, computer studies at schools in Asia, tends to focus on using mainstream computer programs such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel. These programs will have fundamentally changed, or been discontinued, by the time today’s students have graduated, so learning how to use popular software applications is no longer sufficient for 21st Century learners.
A recent report from Microsoft, ‘Driving Transformation in Education’ concluded that Asian educators are becoming aware of the importance of teaching computer science to all students, with almost 50 percent of the schools surveyed expressing concerns that students would find it hard to adapt to the future workplace with low digital literacy levels.
Students who participated also expressed strong interesting in computer science, with some 85 percent expressing a desire to learn how to code. These results support an earlier Microsoft poll from 2015, in which 75 percent of respondents from the Asia Pacific region wished that coding were offered as a core subject.
Forward thinking Asian nations have the opportunity to gain a competitive edge through the introduction of computer sciences as a core subject, in the same way that the UK implemented one of the largest curriculum changes after realising how essential it is for students to study computer science. At present, computer studies at schools in Asia focuses on using mainstream computer programs such as MS Office. Simply learning how to use popular software applications is no longer enough for today’s students.
Eventually, computer science will be a core subject at schools throughout the world, but countries which seize the initiative and become among the first education systems in Asia to embrace computer sciences, will be empowering their learners with one of the most important 21st century skills.
The global challenges of the 21st Century – climate change, depleted natural resources, environmental destruction, pollution, health epidemics, human trafficking, terrorism, armed-conflict and economic instability – will only be successfully overcome with human ingenuity aided by technology and computers. A successful future relies on the abilities of today’s young programmers to develop solutions for the challenges of tomorrow.
Although the official Computer Science Education Week ended on Dec 11, all the resources and interactive tutorials to introduce students (and adults) to the basics of coding will remain online all year, giving those educators and learners who missed the Computer Science week the opportunity to still get involved in these excellent educational initiative.
If you are interested in participating, you can get started by visiting the Hour of Code’s website where there are lots of great resources to inspire future programmers.