I don’t even know what that means. How can I help them?
In the final year of the last century, my firstborn came into the world. It was also the glimmering dawn of the digital epoch. Broadband heralded the new millennium and Apple launched iTunes and the iPod a year later. When my first child was born, you couldn’t download an “app” from an “app store” and global internet traffic was a mere 0.34 exabytes. When my child turned ten, the internet had grown 500 fold with internet traffic reaching 175 exabytes. Five years later and the internet was four times larger again with global internet traffic at 767 exabytes. That’s the equivalent of 12 billion DVDs crossing the internet every month.
The Zettabyte Era
By the end of this year, my daughter will turn seventeen and the internet will enter the zettabyte era. By the time my darling first born turns 20, the internet will have doubled in size again and will pass 2 zettabytes. A zettabyte is 1,000 exabytes which is 1,000 petabytes, which is 1,000 terabytes which is 1,000 gigabytes. It’s a lot of bytes. It’s a lot of data.
My daughter grew up alongside the emerging technologies of cloud, social media, mobile data and the internet. She will enter the workforce as a digital ambassador, comfortable with technology and the cloud, at ease with subscribing to services rather than owning, willing to try new applications and different ways of doing things with a positive, fail fast attitude. She does not fear technology.
The Coding Generation
It will be utterly, completely irreversibly different for children born this year as they enter a world which has moved into a higher digital gear. The new emerging technologies – artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT), Virtual Reality (VR), driverless cars and drones – will ensure that this generation will be fully immersed in data from the moment they are born.
Unlike my daughter’s generation, who understand these technologies enough to use them, this generation will need to be more in control in this forever changing digital world. They will need to understand the language of computers. They will need to learn to code.
What is coding?
To code is to tell machines what to do. Code is a string of typed instructions a computer follows to do simple tasks like showing a word like “yes” on a screen, to steering a drone through the air.
Just as years of compulsory English lessons failed to make novelists of most parents, coding lessons in school will not turn every child into a programmer. But coding will give children the ability to think logically, to cope with uncertainty and to think computationally.
Computational thinking is the ability to break down tasks into a logical sequence of smaller steps, discarding unnecessary elements, diagnosing errors and inventing new approaches when the first inevitably fails.
As Steve Jobs once remarked, “everyone should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.”
Coding will become a feature of Queensland’s primary school education system when the national digital technologies curriculum is rolled out in the next few years. Parents will be expected to help their kids as they learn to code. This is scary. This is not the world we grew up in. We learned English, maths, and science, not coding, computational thinking and “fail fast”.
How can parents help their kids when most feel like computer Luddites? Firstly, don’t be afraid. Get on your favourite web browser and research it. The UK introduced coding in schools three years ago. There is a wealth of information available on the internet. Start at the BBC website, Schools Computing, (http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/0/computing/). There are also materials available on the Queensland government Advancing Education website. To learn about coding plans for Queensland schools, go to #codingcounts (http://advancingeducation.qld.gov.au/codingcounts/).
Teach yourself how to do simple coding. The program, Hour of Code (https://code.ord) is an excellent starter coding lesson. More than 140 million adults worldwide have downloaded it. Parents can also download Scratch (https://scratch.mit.edu/), the interactive programming environment developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) media lab, which is a visual programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art – and share your creations on the web. This is the application very young children are most likely to use to learn to code.
If you find that Hour of Code and Scratch was fun and interesting, you may want to learn how to code yourself. Try Codecademy (https://www.codecademy.com/) or Code School (https://www.codeschool.com/), both of which offer free coding lessons for grown-ups in a wide variety of coding languages. This will keep you ahead of your children’s coding learning curve for the years of their schooling.
The benefits of involving yourself in coding as a parent are clear. You’ll understand it so will be less apprehensive in supporting your children as they learn to code. You will learn a new skill and you will be able to engage with your digitally immersed children. The opportunity to learn, use and embrace coding is in front of you. Seize it.