Marc Andreesen, the famous American entrepreneur and Venture Capitalist, famously said that “software is eating the world.” What he meant was that many industries are being disrupted by software, including Retail, Entertainment, Music, Gaming, Recruiting, Autos, Oil and Gas, Financial Services, Healthcare, Education and even Defence.
Technology is changing the world, and the pace of that change is accelerating. Learning to write software, i.e. code, and to use that software to interact with the physical world around us via electronics, i.e. tinker, is becoming an essential life skill. In this article we’ll look at the five reasons why your kids need to learn to code and tinker, and how you can get them started.
Reason #1 – It will prepare your kids to be digitally literate in a connected world
In our tech-driven world, helping kids understand and be able to utilize technology will be as essential to being a literate person as is learning to read, write and do arithmetic.
Code is already one of the world’s most widely used languages, with almost every industry being enhanced or disrupted by software. Hence programming or coding should be part of the required curriculum of any student in addition to widely-spoken languages such as English, Mandarin and Spanish.
Reason #2 – Kids naturally learn faster
Just as kids can pick up languages much faster than adults as their minds are open and pliable, they can pick up the logic-based thinking and the jargon of code much faster as well.
And just as immersion is the best way to learn a language, kids are already immersed in our connected world of devices and have a natural inclination to play and tinker – just look at how drawn they are to smartphones and tablets.
Reason #3 – Greatly enhance their future employability
There are forecasts that there will be one million unfilled jobs in the US by 2020 that will require programming skills, both directly (e.g. web designers, software developers and engineers) and indirectly. The flip side of this is the jobs that will be lost as they are more efficiently done by robots or software.
Which side do you want your child to be on – in the driver’s seat of their future career? Or be driven – out of a job?
Reason #4 – Develop their logic and creativity
By learning to code and tinker, kids learn the basics of programming and electronics prototyping in a fun way, which will help to develop their logic and reasoning. They’ll also get to exercise their creative muscles and express it through sounds, lights and animation.
Reason #5 – Give them the confidence to embrace and create their own online environment
Instead of just passively being stimulated by playing games, learning to code and even building games will help them proactively learn to create their own online worlds and express themselves in a proactive way.
It may even empower them against cyberbullying by giving them the confidence to take control and change their online environment.
There was a recent news article about Kaitlyn Ng, a 15 year old student who was part of a team that programmed a Tin Man cardboard robot in an IDA (Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore) Labs facility. This is what she said about her experience: “I got interested in programming because it seemed very powerful to be able to type a few lines of code and have it do something like light up or create a game. Technology is something powerful and I think that the study of it is a worthwhile pursuit.”
How to get them started
Platforms like MIT Media Lab’s Scratch programming language help kids to learn coding without having the feeling they’re stuck in a stuffy classroom being forced to learn something they have no interest in. They start out by playing games, then learning to modify the parts they want to change, then eventually building their own.
Beyond coding there are also programmable devices that allow kids to extend their software skills to the physical world. One example is Arduino, a microcontroller-based kit for building interactive devices that can sense and control objects in the physical world. This is a great segue into the Internet of Things and eventually the Internet of Everything.
One great way to get started is to send them for an introductory camp, where they can be guided by qualified and experienced trainers, and build some foundational skills they can then develop on their own.
In a world awash with smartphones and tablets, do you want your kids to be passive consumers of information and entertainment, or to have the skills and the confidence to influence and create? Coding is already taught to all publicly schooled first graders in Estonia – don’t let your child be left behind.
Get your kids started on the road to code and tinker by signing them up for the Tech Whiz Junior Camp: Code & Make with Scratch & Arduino (Ages 9 to 15) or the Tech Whiz Junior Camp: Mobile App Development Mogula (Ages 9 to 15) this March School holidays.