ARE WE MISSING AN OPPORTUNITY?

Stealth
ARE WE MISSING AN OPPORTUNITY?

There is a movement afoot in Silicon Valley to teach computer code as part of the grade school curriculum in the US. The organization spearheading the movement is Code.org and has support from some people you might recognize, such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, former President Bill Clinton, Richard Branson and Sheryl Sandberg.

The Code.org website is pretty cool and has a couple of different purposes. One, to convince teachers, educators, school boards and government decision-makers to bring coding into the regular curriculum starting at an earlier age. Two, to get kids interested in coding by providing a bunch of cool games and programs.

This group poses an interesting question. Not sure if you’ve heard, but computers are kind of important. Should we be taught code just like we’re taught math, science and reading so that we can use computers more effectively?

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs?

We all use computers every day. We are familiar with the way programs look and the way that they help us connect. We know that computer technology is vital to commerce, health, knowledge transfer and pretty much everything you can think of. But, do we know how this all happens? And more importantly, should we know?

Code.org thinks it is vital to the US economy and to productivity. They estimate a demand for a million or more programmers in the US alone. That’s a pretty big deal, especially since the employment rate there remains weak. Could teaching kids as young as five and six how computers really work turn around the US economy for the long term?

Parlez-vous int F=00,OO=00;main(){F_OO();printf?

Their arguments aren’t just economic either. They and many others, including some Canadian tech savvies, argue that learning computer code is akin to learning a language. Therefore, just for our own general benefit, we should be taught code at a young age, just as we are taught English or French. From Steve Jobs: “I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.” Learning a different language is just good for the brain.

As I can attest working as I do for a web development company, code is indeed a language unto itself that requires practice to master. As I also know from my failed attempts to become bilingual, starting to learn a language while young makes a big difference to success.

Part of the argument against bringing code into the classroom is the divide between those that believe public education should exist to prepare us for jobs and those that believe in education as a good in itself. However, given the arguments above, coding seems to hit both sides. Code teaches a different way to think about the world, solve problems and analyze data. Knowing code may also open career doors later in life and help out the economy. Win-win?

Meanwhile in Canada…

Code.org says the US needs more programmers. In Canada, however, the job prospects for computer programmers are only considered fair. Programmers apparently aren’t expected to be in as high demand as in the US. In 2011, half of programmers in Canada made over $50,000 annually. Given the law of supply and demand, if we increase the supply of programmers, will the demand keep up to ensure that they continue to make a living?

On the other hand, if Canada suddenly has a surplus of fantastic, world-class coders, would this encourage more tech start-ups? We are considered a fairly innovative, tech-advanced country now. Would teaching computer code increase this reputation? Or would it merely contribute to more brain-drain to Silicone Valley?

If anything, this is a conversation that we should probably have, sooner rather than later.

What you think?