WHY KIDS SHOULD BE COD­ING

Pro­vides skills to mas­ter tech­nol­ogy, de­vel­ops log­i­cal think­ing and en­cour­ages cre­ativ­ity

Cape Argus - - FRONT PAGE - WITH BI­LAL KATHRADA bi­[email protected]­pukids.me

WHAT do Bill Gates, Mark Zucker­berg and Nick D’Aloisio have in com­mon, other than they are all phe­nom­e­nally wealthy tech en­trepreneurs? The an­swer: they started very young.

Gates coded his first com­puter game at the age of 13, way back in the late ’60s. He had had a lucky break: his school’s “Moth­ers’ Club” raised some money to buy a tele­type ma­chine, ba­si­cally a dumb ter­mi­nal con­sist­ing of a key­board and a screen, that con­nected to a re­mote GE time-shar­ing com­puter. Gates took to the new de­vice like a duck to wa­ter, and be­gan writ­ing his first code al­most im­me­di­ately. Seven years later, he went on to co-found what was to be­come the world’s largest soft­ware com­pany, Mi­crosoft.

Zucker­berg’s dad be­gan teach­ing him to code us­ing the BA­SIC lan­guage on an Atari com­puter be­fore he was 10 years old. Like Gates, he found a pas­sion for cod­ing, and soon be­gan writ­ing some amaz­ing pro­grams. He cre­ated an in­stant mes­sag­ing sys­tem which he called “Zuck­Net” and a mu­sic player called Sy­napse Me­dia Player with built-in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence that could learn the user’s lis­ten­ing habits and rec­om­mend tracks.

All this he did while still in high school. This gave him the rep­u­ta­tion as a com­puter pro­gram­ming prodigy.

Then, in his sopho­more year at Har­vard, which is equiv­a­lent to Grade 10, he wrote a pro­gram to help stu­dents to select which classes they should take based on a num­ber of cri­te­ria. He called the pro­gram CourseMatch, and it was an in­stant hit with stu­dents, who strug­gled to select classes.

Soon af­ter­wards, in 2004, Zucker­berg be­gan to cre­ate a web­site that al­lowed shy young men to meet women by putting up a pic­ture of them­selves along with a bio and other per­sonal in­for­ma­tion like pref­er­ences and hob­bies. He called the site TheFaceBook. It was im­mensely pop­u­lar among stu­dents, and he saw its po­ten­tial as a so­cial me­dia plat­form and de­cided to take the con­cept to the world. Soon af­ter­wards, he dropped out of Har­vard and be­gan work­ing on an im­proved ver­sion of the web­site, which he sub­se­quently called Face­Book. And the rest is his­tory.

D’Aloisio be­gan cod­ing at 12, and at the age of 15, sold his app, called Summly, to the in­ter­net gi­ant Ya­hoo for $30 mil­lion, mak­ing him one of the youngest self-made mil­lion­aires in the world.

All three sto­ries have a re­cur­ring un­der­ly­ing theme: each learned to code at a young age. None set out to be­come rich or even to start a busi­ness; that hap­pened af­ter­wards. What they did do, was that they learned to code. Their new skillset al­lowed them to iden­tify and solve some real-world prob­lems that they them­selves were fac­ing. It just so hap­pened that oth­ers were fac­ing the same, and there was a ready mar­ket. In creat­ing these so­lu­tions, they not only be­came fab­u­lously wealthy, but also changed the world.

Cod­ing skills are more rel­e­vant now than ever with the on­set of the Fourth In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion, where tech­nol­ogy has per­vaded nearly ev­ery as­pect of our pro­fes­sional and per­sonal lives. This is why I be­lieve that ev­ery child should learn com­puter science and cod­ing skills, whether they in­tend to get into a ca­reer in cod­ing or not. In fact, I would go to the ex­tent of say­ing that com­puter science should be­come a core sub­ject at all schools na­tion­wide, from pri­mary school level.

I have two main rea­sons for this: first, we all need a level of mas­tery over tech­nol­ogy and com­put­ers, no mat­ter our ca­reer. With rare ex­cep­tions, we all use com­put­ers and mo­bile de­vices at work or for per­sonal rea­sons. Hence, it is es­sen­tial that every­one, par­tic­u­larly chil­dren, learn how to make the most of this tech­nol­ogy, while avoid­ing the pit­falls.

Sec­ond, the ben­e­fits of cod­ing go far beyond just com­put­ers, tech­nol­ogy and apps. It was proven via a num­ber of stud­ies that cod­ing helps to de­velop log­i­cal think­ing abil­i­ties, de­vel­ops prob­lem-solv­ing skills and en­cour­ages cre­ativ­ity. When given a cod­ing task, chil­dren were found to fo­cus a lot more in­tensely than nor­mal, and for longer pe­ri­ods, and they vol­un­tar­ily per­sisted on the task.

Ad­di­tion­ally, cod­ing de­vel­ops com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, be­cause com­put­ers are a lot harder to com­mu­ni­cate with than hu­mans.

I think these are com­pelling enough rea­sons for ev­ery par­ent and school to se­ri­ously con­sider mak­ing cod­ing and com­puter science an in­te­gral part of their cur­ricu­lum.

There is al­ready a drive in the US and in most Euro­pean coun­tries, and in many places it has al­ready been im­ple­mented. In the US, this was given mo­men­tum by ex-pres­i­dent Obama, who launched the “Com­puter Science for All” ini­tia­tive while he was still in of­fice.

If South Africa is go­ing to play a key role in the global dig­i­tal econ­omy, we will have to start pro­vid­ing our kids with dig­i­tal skills from a young age.

In­de­pen­dent Me­dia Ar­chives

COM­PUTER science should be a core sub­ject in all schools na­tion­wide, from pri­mary level, says the writer. |

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