I get asked to respond to this question in public and private forums a *lot*. I often trot out the driver/passenger analogy, but this is not necessarily a good explanation for children. So here is another wheel-based explanation of why I, personally, believe it is an important skill to be taught in schools:
Buying a child a computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone without teaching them at least the basics of computational thinking and programming, is like buying them a bike and letting them cycle on the roads.
As responsible parents we ensure the children know the rules of the road, stuff like:
- which direction the cars drive in
- how to keep themselves safe
- when to use pavements and when to try the road
- to avoid motorways
and so on…
We probably start with teaching them how to operate the bike at home and in safe areas before allowing them the freedom of the road, but let’s face it for this analogy, most of these children know how to ride a bike from their first efforts with a tablet and apps when still toddlers. However, we need them to understand the environment, so that they can act accordingly, safely and happily ride their bikes – exploring and learning and most importantly having fun.
Some of these children will grow up to simply continue to be casual bikers, it is just something they can do and enjoy. Some will become professional cyclists, some will become serious weekend road warriors, some will learn to build bikes and make a living out of it. But they have all grown up completely understanding the environment within which they can ride their bikes, and how it all works.
If you take this analogy back to giving them their computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone, current accepted behaviour is to restrict them to only riding their bike in the sitting room, with Mum, Dad or teacher holding their back wheel – this way they will be safe. Or the other extreme, let them out the front door and send them straight off onto the roads with no guidance. To be fair, most parents assume that schools have already got this one, that these young people are being taught the basics of the environment therefore it is not ridiculous to let them out the front door.
But the reality is that currently they don’t. And it is only best efforts from volunteer groups, such as CodeClub, and a small number of IT teachers who have the skills and ability to teach the essential rules of operation in a digital world. In Young Rewired State we have spent the last five years finding and fostering the young people who have been teaching themselves how to code, introducing them to each other and to mentors who can help them further their skills – slowly we are building a supported network of people aged 18 and under, who are learning through peer-to-peer and are no longer isolated and having to work out the rules of the road by themselves.
The world that these children are growing up into is rapidly becoming a world largely dependent on digital, a digital renaissance is upon us if you like. To whizz back to the analogy, the roads and the cyclists are becoming ever more critical to the infrastructure and operation of our entire world. It is not just about job opportunities, it is about being digital citizens, fully informed and empowered to confidently make choices and decisions, almost without having to think. They need to just know.
Here is a little video we created at this year’s Festival of Code about why we do what we do: