We are still very much in the midst of the Digital Revolution. This change to the economy has pushed not only technology companies to the forefront, but also traditional-industry companies who have embraced technology. Many South Africans still do not consider a career in IT a viable option (Educating and empowering the youth), but it’s clear that these skills will become more and more integral to the growth of our economy in the future. Who knows, in more developed economies, coding might even become as fundamental to early education as literacy and mathematics.
So how does one spark a child’s interest in coding? Fortunately, there are a huge number of apps and websites dedicated to this nowadays. But just leaving a child in front of a tablet or PC and hoping for the best is unlikely to inspire a real interest. Here are some tips to help them discover their potential:
1. Emphasise the creative and fun aspects
Some of the most satisfying elements of programming are the creative element and the instant gratification behind it. Coding taught in a monotonous academic way often misses out on those elements and results in kids becoming overwhelmed or indifferent. Most children love creating things, and love to see their creations in action – think painting or Lego. Look for tools that encourage exploration, that enable curiosity (“I wonder what will happen if I do this?”) and allow the child to actually see the output of what they have just done.
For very young children, there are Apps such as Bit-by-bit or Fisher Price’s Code-a-pillar, and for kids aged 6-10, tools like ScratchJr (web-based), Daisy the Dinosaur (iPad) and HopScotch (iPad) work really well. For slightly older children, Scratch, Lightbot and Tynker (all web-based) are great options while Lego Mindstorms bring a whole new feature to an old classic. For a comprehensive list and reviews of each option, head here: commonsensemedia
Scratch and Tynker also bring in the gaming element, which is something many kids enjoy. Imagine the pride involved with creating their own computer game.
2. Make it social
Group projects can be even more rewarding, and help both the creative process and ensure that there is immediate support should a child get stuck. Look for mentors – many families will have a developer in there somewhere who will more than likely be happy to assist. Most developers understand how important coding skills are to our country’s future. A good mentor can really make the difference between a prolonged interest and becoming overwhelmed and bored.
Alternatively, look for local kids coding groups or hackathons. This is an area where South Africa is lacking, but there are a few out there.
Code.org is an online platform that offers tutorials for elementary school level through to high school level. And Africa Code week offers online courses for 8-11 year olds and upwards; both are designed to teach coding skills to budding young programmers. Locally, Entelect are running a series of Schools engagement programmes, where employees take time to talk to children at schools about possible futures in coding. A number of schools are also starting to incorporate coding into their curriculum, so look out for these opportunities where available.
3. Don’t force things
Every child is different. Not all kids like to paint or play sports or read, so not every child will like to code either. Exposing the child to the tools, and showing them enough support to let them make their own mind up is key. If they don’t show immediate interest, they at least know what it’s all about and may even revisit it at a later stage of their education.
Introducing children to programming can open up paths for them in the future as these skills become integral to the growth of our economy. The skills they can learn around critical thinking, problem solving and creativity are likely to be beneficial in all sorts of walks of life. The key is to make it enjoyable. Place an emphasis on making it easy for kids to create something; allowing them see and feel the fruits of their labour, and discover their potential. Fortunately, there is an emergence of learning opportunities available to children, but don’t force kids to program – it’s a great skill to have, but by no means is it the only way to succeed in this world!