In 2017 we could see coding being taught in Sri Lankan schools

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The world runs on code. All of us depend on technology to communicate, to buy Christmas gifts, to get to work and so much more. Computers have transformed every aspect of our daily lives. Yet how many of us know how to read and write code? Sadly, the answer to that is still not many of us. But that might change in 2017. ICTA has announced the introduction of the ‘All Children Coding Initiative’.

In 2017 we could see coding being taught in schools (Image credits: Mashable)
In 2017 we could see coding being taught in schools (Image credits: Mashable)

This initiative would see coding becoming a part of the school curriculum in 2017. The initiative would see the development of a comprehensive coding curriculum. This curriculum would introduce coding to both primary and secondary school students. The goal of this initiative in its first year is to train 200 teachers and teach coding to approximately 7000 children.

Arunesh Peter, ICTA’s Director of Projects commented about this initiative saying, “ICT is already taught as a subject in general from Grade 6 upwards. However, we believe that programming and coding shouldn’t just be limited to computer science majors in schools, so we are introducing a curriculum for students from the age of six upwards to help them to develop and master problem-solving skills and computational thinking. Once they enter the workforce, these students will accelerate the move of Sri Lanka into a knowledge-based economy that leverages on the benefits of the technological advances to support our overall economic growth.”

But why should we teach students how to code?

There are many benefits to learning how to code. We could probably write another entire article on this topic. But here are some of the more common and prominent reasons as to how learning to code can help anyone.

1. Coding helps change the world

Innovation is the art of creating something new or doing something old in a completely new way. One of the easiest ways to innovate in the modern world is by writing code. After all, computers run the world. If you speak their language and know what to ask them to do, you can create wonders. A great local example would be PickMe. A simple app that revolutionized the local taxi industry. Technology companies of today are building the future we’ll live in tomorrow. Coding helps you become an architect of this future.

2. Coding teaches problem-solving skills

To ask a computer to solve a problem, you need to break it down into the smallest of pieces. This means heavily analyzing the problem and identifying the little details in taking the necessary steps to solve it. In doing so, this helps improve our own problem skills greatly. In other words, coding can teach you how to become much more resourceful in times of crisis.

3. Coding empowers creativity and fosters confidence

Coding is an important tool that can be used to build practically anything. And this is what makes it such an empowering skill to have. The creativity coding fosters starts small with thoughts such as, “how can I build an app to tell me how many classes I missed?” But over time that creativity slips into the real-world with entrepreneurs focused on solving real problems faced by society. And this is because of the confidence fostered by figuring out how to build that little app.

The challenges ahead to truly empower students

While the All Children Coding Initiative is a great first step, it’s still only that – a first step. The goal of teaching students computer science should be to empower them to create innovative things. And that requires more than teaching students the art of coding. It requires a strong relationship between the industry and schools.

The industry needs to share with the schools what skills are currently in demand. This is because in the world of technology (especially in software development) things change at a rapid mind-blowing pace. For proof one only needs to look at the state of web development where a new framework, library or standard was built in the time it took you to read this that’ll change the way we build applications.

With such rapid changes in technology, it’s important that strong links are established between the industry and schools. This would ensure that students always have the skills required by the industry and know how to use the latest tools to create great things. Yet, even if the industry shares what skills are needed, it also would need to help teachers enable their students to master these skills.

Team Infinitium demoing Dextra at Infotel 2016 (Image credits: Malshan Gunawardane)
Passionate students build great things when teachers encourage them (Image credits: Malshan Gunawardane)

But most importantly, the culture of education in Sri Lankan schools would also need to change. Teaching students to code is easy. But to ensure they master the art of building great applications requires them to experiment. Teachers should encourage students to pursue their passions and build whatever comes into their minds. The culture of teachers telling students to focus on passing exams and nothing else needs to disappear.

We’ve already seen the amazing results when teachers make this decision to empower passionate students. The best example of this would be Project Dextra, which was built by a group of students in Grade 8. Unless the teachers teaching coding decides to make this cultural change, we’ll likely have a generation of students that know how to write code but are unable to create anything innovative.

But at the end of the day, a first step is still progress

Despite the challenges it faces, the All Children Coding Initiative is still a step in the right direction. Such initiatives are a necessity as we towards a more digitized world. However, should the initiative be executed properly and overcome its challenges, then it would be a game changer. If so, one could then envision students rather than tech companies building the most innovative products. Whether this vision will become a reality sooner than later is something only time will tell.

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