What is this ‘coding’ thing all about anyway?
“Coding”, it’s in the media, it’s in the Australian National Innovation and Science Agenda, and we’re told that kids need to learn this because it’s important for their future…
…but… what actually is coding?
Coding is the process of writing a set of instructions for a computer to perform. Code can be as simple as a single instruction that tells an animated cat how to say hello, or as complex as programming the brains behind a self-driving car.
Why not just call it “computer programming” like we used to say?
One answer is that “coding” is the current cool word that people use for the general family of skills and activities in programming, scripting, developing, anything else related to coming up with a set of instructions that tell computers and machines to do something.
This short and snappy word also helps to bring a sense of fun and approachability to something that has (in many countries including Australia) had an unfortunate image and culture of smelly guys in dimly lit basements living in front of screens and eating pizza while typing. While there’s definitely nothing wrong with eating pizza, the rest of that stereotype was pretty unfair and it doesn’t represent the real world and culture of computing these days.
The word “coding” also helps to broaden the definition of the different ways that people work and create using computers. Some people will follow the “computer programming” path of writing complex code for crunching big data in global digital systems, and others will use those similar fundamental coding techniques to write a song in a music sequencer as a weekend hobby.
The main aim of the word “coding” is to make the world of computers and programming accessible to as many people as possible, and to encourage a culture where anybody can learn how to create things on computers.
Honestly, is it really that important for kids to learn about coding?
A general introduction to coding, and practice in the basics of creating things in digital systems – definitely yes.
Writing complex algorithms in professional languages to manipulate data sets over networks – not at all.
We see the basics of coding as an extremely important part of a child’s literacy and development of thinking. Anything beyond the basics is an extra bonus to potential future work, as well as some fun options for personal creativity and expression.
It’s a bit like the digital equivalent of the ability to read and write. It would be like learning to read and enjoy other people’s work, but never learning to write anything yourself. We don’t expect every child to be able to write award winning literature, but it is still important for them to learn how to spell their name and write a short story or a report.
Many kids are growing up around digital technology that makes them instantly comfortable with downloading apps, liking photos, and watching NetFlix… but these are often very passive activities using programs designed by large corporations, with very little original thought or active participation required from us. Getting kids actively coding and designing gives them a greater insight into how digital systems work, and some great practice in problem solving and creative thinking.
Just like it’s important to learn how to write as well as read, we see the basics of coding education as important for learning and growing in a world full of digital technology.