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

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - HENRI VIIRALT

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.”

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