A message heard around the world: Learn coding when you are young

Fri, 2014-08-08 06:00 -- Amy Enbysk

For today’s Technology Generation, there’s a crucial difference between knowing how to use a computer, smartphone or tablet — and knowing how it works.

The push is on to begin teaching more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills to children at an early age, even as young as 5-to-7 years old, to beef up the knowing-how-it-works side. Studies have shown that when young students learn skills such as software coding, their grades in math and science and their problem-solving abilities all show improvement.

Employability and profit on the line

And as cities get smarter there's a tremendous need for a workforce that not only knows how to use computers and mobile devices, but also how they operate. Beyond that, it’s not just cool today, but also profitable, to be a computer geek. (Just ask Zuckerberg, or the frat guy who started Snapchat.)

Today’s kids are being counted on to continue this legacy, and perhaps advance it even further than the previous generation, which is why they being offered more and more opportunities to learn STEM skills at a young age.

Here are five examples of kids learning these valuable skills in schools around the world.

  1. UK teachers and students receive training in computer science, provided by BT and the Barefoot Funding Project. BT (British Telecommunications plc) is giving away the ScratchJr app to teach coding skills to children ages 5 to 7 through interactive games. BT’s goal is to develop “the brightest minds in IT and technology.” The games, developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are intended to be fun and interactive. The UK Department of Education is funding the project and has already spent 3 million euros on training for teachers.  The creators of the app, which recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign, suggest that “coding is the new literacy.” Learn more >>
  2. Richmond, VA, teachers receive special computer-science training to better educate their students. CodeVA is the organization that conducts the training, which focuses on how to incorporate more computer-science activities into the curriculum, as well as boost participation in the AP exam for the subject. Seattle-based Code.org is funding the project, and they are a nonprofit that’s focus is boosting women and minority participation in computer science. Learn more >>
  3. In Barcelona, Spain, an educational initiative -- the mSchools program -- promotes teaching and learning using mobile technology. Through mobile technology education, teachers explore new ways of teaching while improving their students’ future employability. A computer-science course enables students to learn how to design apps and develop prototypes. The goal is to develop an entrepreneurial spirit within the students. Learn more >>
  4. In Hong Kong, bilingual kids are now taught a third language: computer code. Ray Cheung Chak-chun, an assistant professor at the City University Apps Lab, is running a series of workshops called "We Can Code" to teach secondary school students how to create mobile apps. Meanwhile, British entrepreneur David Greenwood has started Code Club HK, a volunteer-run network in Hong Kong to promote coding among children ages 9 to 11 during after-school activities. However, many believe much more in the way of coding and related programs are needed."The sooner children know how to code, the sooner they will understand how the world works," says Yat Siu, founder and CEO of web-technology company Outblaze. Learn more >>
  5. In New York, middle schoolers are designing smart cities with an assist from NYU engineering students.  Not only are the kids thinking about how to make future cities more resilient, they're also coming up with interactive devices, according to a CBS report. Ideas range from an anti-collision car to a vertical greenhouse that doesn't take up as much space as one might otherwise.  “It’s a good way to introduce lots of different engineering disciplines in the context of urban development and urban area where these kids live,” said Ben Esner, director of STEM Education at NYU. Learn more >>

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Amy Enbysk is a 20-something writer/blogger living in Portland, Oregon. Connect on LinkedIn.

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How three industry giants are encouraging tomorrow's tech talent