Adding Coding to the Curriculum: Considering the claims
There are lots of claims about the benefits of introducing computing early. This article in the NYTimes (even just the quote below) considers several of them:
- Important for individual students’ future career prospects. That seems unlikely, that elementary school CS would lead to better career prospects.
- Influence countries’ economic competitiveness. There might be a stronger argument here. Elementary school is about general literacy. There is likely an economic cost to computing illiteracy.
- Technology industry’s ability to find qualified workers. By putting computing into elementary school? Does industry want to hire kids who know Scratch and Alice? As Elliot suggested, it’s mostly a video game to young kids.
- “Exposing students to coding from an early age helps to demystify an area that can be intimidating.” I strongly agree with that one. We know that kids have weird ideas about CS, and seeing any real CS has a dramatic impact (especially on under-represented groups).
- “Breaks down stereotypes of computer scientists as boring geeks.” Maybe. Not all exposure to real computing leads to breaking down stereotypes. Sometimes they’re enhanced. I think this can happen, but we have to be careful to make it work.
- “Programming is highly creative.” True.
- “Studying it can help to develop problem-solving abilities.” False.
- “Equip students for a world transformed by technology.” Maybe. Does teaching kids about technology when they’re 8 prepare them for entering the workforce 10 years later? If computing literacy matters, that’s true. But I don’t believe that playing with Blockly in 3rd grade “equips” you with much. Most technology doesn’t look like Blockly.
We do have to make our message clear, and it should be a message that’s supported by research. If the computing education policy-and-PR machine ignores the research, we’re showing more disrespect for the field of computing education research and makes it even harder to establish reforms.
Around the world, students from elementary school to the Ph.D. level are increasingly getting acquainted with the basics of coding, as computer programming is also known. From Singapore to Tallinn, governments, educators and advocates from the tech industry argue that it has become crucial to hold at least a basic understanding of how the devices that play such a large role in modern life actually work.
Such knowledge, the advocates say, is important not only to individual students’ future career prospects, but also for their countries’ economic competitiveness and the technology industry’s ability to find qualified workers.
Exposing students to coding from an early age helps to demystify an area that can be intimidating. It also breaks down stereotypes of computer scientists as boring geeks, supporters argue. Plus, they say, programming is highly creative: Studying it can help to develop problem-solving abilities, as well as equip students for a world transformed by technology.