Coding for Kids: Building technology creators not technology users
Technology moves at a rapid pace – children today are using technology in their classrooms that may not have been readily accessible or even invented yet when their parents attended school.
Sometimes considering the speed at which technology is advancing can be daunting, so we talked with Heather Catchpole, one of the authors of our recently released kids’ book Ready, Set, Code! Coding Activities for Kids about what coding is and its growing place in our world and in children’s lives.
As parents, teachers, and mentors to a younger generation, we need to navigate challenging new boundaries between children and technology. Never before has so much of our lives been carried out online, via games, chat, social media, entertainment streaming, news and communication. This has created a plethora of new roles for people working in technology to deliver better user experiences, tailor our shopping, and track our every experience online. It can seem overwhelming.
There are also many new ways in which technology helps, from satellite technology monitoring our environment, to apps that warn us of impending disasters, and social media to locate our loved ones during emergencies.
Exposing our children to this increasingly interconnected world is a difficult to tightrope to tread. But by encouraging them early on to be their own creators of technology, rather than passive users, we allow them to develop the knowledge, skills and wisdom to navigate their own tech journey.
We need people from all backgrounds to understand how technology works, and how we can think about the problems we are applying technology to, because the pace of technological change is only set to increase. Automation and machine learning are already applied in a myriad of ways in society. Many of these applications are critically useful – such as applying image recognition technology that can detect cancer (external link) faster and more accurately than doctors can. There are also areas where artificial intelligence (AI) has shown bias – including in determining that ‘professional’ hairstyles are those more often attributed to white people (external link), ranking the CVs of males higher in job recruitment software (external link), and misdiagnosing heart attacks in women (external link).
This is not because AI is inherently bad – the fault is in the data set. But it’s also clear that we need to have people of different genders, races, abilities and neurodiversity involved in creating technology if we are to aim for an equitable society where technology is employed in tasks traditionally carried out by humans.
Tech roles are growing at an astounding rate, and far fewer women are qualifying for these jobs. And it’s clear that tech will play a role in every industry – the people who work with technology will be business leaders, farmers, artists, and linguists; they will work in retail, for the government, and in their own companies. By encouraging a ‘building’ mindset in our children at an early stage, we can help them to understand that the tech they use every day is something they can understand, create, and debug.
By training our children as technology makers rather than technology users, we also provide them with the skills to understand and break down problems into smaller parts (a concept known as computational thinking). We confirm them as creatives, who can set their own inventive minds towards making technology work for them in new and exciting ways.
By learning how coding works, kids develop a mindset that will set them up for their future. It will give them a head start in learning Digital Technologies through high school, and, if they’re interested, open them up to fast-growing and socially relevant roles working with technology in the future. Not everyone needs to learn to code. However, learning coding early lets kids see that the technologies around them have their basis in creativity, logic, and language.
New courses in cybersecurity, data engineering and artificial intelligence are starting at universities globally as demand for these careers grows. As we create new technologies, we’ll need to find new ways of learning. Research (external link) estimates that today’s children will work in 17 changes in employers across five entirely different career areas.
Code, or programming, is behind everything we do from making a payment to finding our way to a new restaurant. In the future, new tools will develop from today’s young coders. Helping to create a code literate young community today, will help them to face their own generation’s challenges from climate change, social change and a growing population.
Heather Catchpole is a children’s author and founder of the Careers with Code magazines. Produced in partnership with Google, over 1.5 million copies of these magazines have been distributed in the USA, New Zealand and Australia. Heather is a passionate advocate for science, technology, engineering and maths and an entrepreneur and co-founder of Refraction Media. Her goal is to create a digital future with humanity and creativity.
Nicola O’Brien is the founder of Code Rangers, a start-up that teaches kids to code and helps teachers to bring coding to their schools. She currently works at the Australian Computing Academy, University of Sydney. She is a computing education specialist tasked with creating and delivering engaging curriculum-aligned content on digital technologies.
Ready, Set, Code! is the essential guide for kids to becoming technology doers not technology users. Kids learn to code and create through simple projects to make games, apps and devices that relate to their own interests – whether that is music, art, gaming, phones, or their community and school environment. Visit our website to find out more or to purchase your copy.