To code or not to code
By Jim Poling
Published Sept. 7, 2017
School days, school days, good old fashioned . . .
Reading and writing and ‘rithmetic . . . . and coding.
Coding apparently is the hottest trend in education. Or, more accurately, coding is what Silicon Valley’s digital masterminds are trying to make the hottest trend.
Coding should be a requirement in every public school,” Apple CEO Tim Cooke told a gathering of top-drawer techies at the U.S. White House recently.
Coding is a set of instructions telling a computer what you want it to do. Computers run on binary code – combinations of ones and zeros. To put all the ones and zeros in the right order for a computer to understand, you have to learn programming languages such as Python, Ruby, Java, C++ and others.
High-tech advocates of coding have been raising tens of millions of dollars to persuade governments to make coding mandatory in school curriculum. Their argument is that millions of future jobs will require advanced computer knowledge and skills.
British Columbia, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia already have made learning coding a mandatory part of their curriculums. Ontario and Saskatchewan have included it as an option.
Some people question whether the high tech industry simply is trying to sway governments to serve its own interests.
We live in the digital age so it is important that tomorrow’s workers have a high level of computer literacy. However, there is much hype behind the high-tech industry’s campaign to have coding learning become mandatory in all schools.
Some advocates say learning coding has become as important as learning to read and write. Coding teaches people how to think, they argue.
Perhaps, but let’s not get carried away. Most of us have learned how to think without knowing how to code, and we got that learning through reading, writing and talking to each other.
We should be careful not to let the computer age lessen the importance of basic reading and writing skills. It already has in many ways.
Our communication skills have declined in the computer age. We have less time to read, speak too often with abbreviations (LOL,TMI, OMG, IMFO, FYI) and tech talk phrases, and have less face-to-face communication.
Social media, which has created important communications channels, allows us to take in and spread more information. Regretfully, too much social networking information lacks depth, is missing context, or is not factual.
Declining communications skills are seen every day in our political and other community leaders. Many lack the skills needed to speak or write clearly and precisely what they want to tell their followers. The result often is confusion and conflict.
Obviously it is important for people today to have a basic knowledge of computers because so many of our daily activities are connected to computers. That does not mean that we all need to learn computer coding, or that computer coding is a must for all elementary school kids.
Most of us drive automobiles but learning how to drive was not part of our elementary schooling. What we were taught in school were math, physics, biology, English grammar and other subjects that would help us to understand and learn the individual skills needed for driving a vehicle.
Those and other school study subjects remain important in developing understanding and skills for work in the computer age. For most kids, a general knowledge and understanding of computerization is all they need and all that the schools should be teaching.
Learning coding should not be a high priority for all school kids and we should not be diverting education money away from traditional subjects to provide it.
Options can be provided in higher grades for kids who show a serious bent towards computer careers.
The high-tech world entices us with wizard talk about how it can make our world better. It has in many ways, but we need to be skeptical and ask pointed questions. The drive to have all children learn coding is a case in point.
So when corporate sloganeers spin ideas with buzzwords such as ‘Thinking Outside the Box, “we need to pause, look them in the eye and say “Ditch the box. Just think.”