Programming can be seen as a window to the modern world. We need to get children hooked on it from the earliest age.
Programming can be seen as a window to the modern world, and a new trend aims to get children hooked on it from the earliest age possible
In the last three decades, computers have changed the world beyond recognition. Not only have digital technologies permeated every aspect of our daily lives, but an increasing number of critical systems that were once controlled mechanically, or by people, now run on code. The world’s growing reliance on technology to get things done is making developers more important than ever. They are the people who are capable of building things for a digital world, and that is precisely why the demand for developers will grow exponentially over the next decade.
According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, in the US alone, “employment of software developers is projected to grow 24 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of applications developers is projected to grow 30 percent, and employment of systems developers is projected to grow 11 percent. The main reason for the growth in both applications developers and systems developers is a large increase in the demand for computer software.”
Because we are surrounded by technology, learning to code, even at an elementary level, has several benefits, like teaching problem solving and simulating creativity. In order to expose children at a young age to the basics of computer science, several EU countries have already introduced coding to their core curriculum at the primary level.
Elsewhere, a new trend of setting up coding clubs, where voluntary groups teach children and youth basic coding skills, has become very popular. It reached Norway in 2013; first the metropolitan areas, but soon even in rural communities across the long-stretching country, reaching far to the north.
One of the initiators in Norway, Simen Sommerfeldt, CTO at Bouvet ASA, wrote the following in his blog in May 2013: “I had been pondering for a while about the idea of establishing a local Meetup aimed at teaching the kids in Oslo to code. I had mentioned it to my partners on the eastern board of the Norwegian Computer Society. So, I casually responded to a tweet by Olve Maudal, a Software Engineer at Cisco, and challenged him to join me in making a programming course for children. He responded favourably, as did many others.
Just like in the U.S, people and companies came in hordes. The first month was an unreal experience. The
leaders in the developer communities and some members of academia in Norway all tweeted to make their followers join in, and soon enough we had sister meetups in the major Norwegian cities. Then came Torgeir Waterhouse, director of Internet at ICT Norway. The two of us hit it off, and decided to run this project together.
We have 650 members in nine cities, and tens of schools already busy introducing programming in their curriculum. The «inner circle» of the project counts some 80 persons in several working groups. We are a movement of doers, not bureaucrats.”
Finn Worm-Petersen, Group CEO of Tiqri, had been contemplating setting up a similar programme for the youth in Colombo a few years later, recognising the need for setting up an entirely free of charge coding club, where every child can come, no matter their socioeconomic status, to be introduced to the world of programming.
“We knew that ICT Norway had a conceptually similar event running in Norway, so we started discussing it with the industry leaders and the Norwegian embassy in Sri Lanka, framing it as a CSR initiative, so rather than companies going out and painting schools, it became something to provide intrinsic value for the children and help with their professional skill development,” Mr Worm-Petersen says.
Tiqri is also the organiser of Dev Day, Sri Lanka’s premier development conference, and they inaugurated ‘Kids Can Code’, in collaboration with SLASSCOM and ICT Norway as a workshop session for children between the ages of 9-14, as part of the annual conference in 2016. This workshop was a prelude to the launch of Kids Can Code Club in Sri Lanka, which Tiqri now hosts in-house every month on Saturdays.
“It’s a full-day event, targeted towards kids that might not necessarily have the resources to take expensive courses, and coding is unfortunately not yet part of the school curriculum at primary levels either. The idea behind Kids Can Code is to eventually make it accessible to every child in Sri Lanka, to show that coding is part of the future,” Mr Worm-Petersen says. “Obviously, our long-term goal is to ensure that the ICT industry here thrives and we recognise the need for fresh blood and perspectives, and we think the industry will always have a very important cooperation with academia, so we try our best to tap into the early stage development, way before the school system will introduce them to computer science.”
Mr Worm-Petersen notes other organisations in Colombo are now becoming actively involved in helping to develop the next generation of ICT workforce, and there has been more and more interest from rural areas, which lack the technological infrastructure, to partner up with companies in Colombo, who can help set up the coding schools and teach the instructors.
For their code club, Tiqri uses the micro:bit, an inexpensive pocket-sized computer, developed by the BBC. IT was designed to encourage children to get actively involved in writing software for computers and building new things, rather than being consumers of media. At half the size of a credit card, it’s surprisingly versatile and packs quite a bit of hardware – including 25 LED lights that can flash messages, a motion sensor, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connector to interact with other devices and the internet, as well as two programmable buttons.
ICT Norway also visited Sri Lanka earlier this year, to discuss adding coding to the school curriculum at the primary stage. Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) has recently introduced ‘ All Children Coding’, an initiative with the support of Ministry of Education, to improve the logical and creative thinking, and to improve the problem-solving capabilities of the students. The programme is now running on a trial basis at select schools.
According to Mr WormPetersen, there have been discussions on implementing coding to the school curriculum at a primary level for a while, but previously ICTA lacked the full curriculum, which ICT Norway is now providing.
Arunesh Peter, ICTA’s Director of Projects commented on the All Children Coding initiative at a press conference, “ICT is already taught as a subject in general from grade 6 upwards. However, we believe that programming and coding shouldn’t just be limited to computer science majors in schools, so we are introducing a curriculum for students from the age of six upwards to help them to develop and master problem-solving skills and computational thinking. Once they enter the workforce, these students will accelerate the move of Sri Lanka into a knowledge-based economy that leverages on the benefits of the technological advances to support our overall economic growth.”
Mr Worm-Petersen says that SLASSCOM has been actively opening up new coding schools and he invites other international companies to partner up in establishing a network of coding schools nationwide in Sri Lanka.
“It’s still early days of course, but there is definitely a lot of interest in coding now in Sri Lanka and not just by children – even the parents are getting in on the action. Just recently we held a Kids Can Code session where around 40 curious parents accompanied their children to see what potential coding can unlock for their future.”