Learning how to program is the new literacy

In a recent New Scientist (6 September 2014), Niall Firth describes a major shift in English curriculum and one which raises a number of questions around literacy… He writes:
“This month, England is embarking on a big new experiment. Children going back to school over the next few weeks will find there’s a new lesson on their timetable, as computer science replaces IT. Kids aged 5 and over will be taught how to program – and from the age of 11, they will be expected to get to grips with multiple coding idioms. “Modern languages” no longer means Italian, French or German. Computer programming will sit alongside reading, writing and arithmetic as the fourth core subject – a life skill for the 21st century.” (P.38)

“Learning how to program is the new literacy,” says Marina Bers of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. But if that is the case, how does the new literacy differ from the old? And what will it mean for our relationship with machines? Surprisingly, there has been little research on the subject. There is some evidence that learning to code can boost the ability for abstract thinking and problem solving. And some think we are about to change our interaction with technology for good. Generally speaking, though, we are entering unknown territory.” (P38)

“But should all children learn to code? Clearly, only a few will end up doing it professionally. Not everyone needs to be a mechanic to drive a car – why should computers be different? Most day-to-day technology is designed precisely so that we don’t need to know what makes it tick. Smartphones, apps, websites – they all just work. We have taught children how to use the web and Microsoft Office for years. Isn’t that enough? Not for people like Mitchell Resnick, director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. Coding gives you a new relationship with technology, he says. “It gives you a new way of thinking about yourself, a new way of seeing the world around you.”” (P.40)
“With technology now so dominant in our lives, children need to see it as something they can control, says Resnick. “Kids shouldn’t just be the recipients of what others are creating.”” (P.40) “with that in mind, 10 years ago, Resnick and colleagues came up with a way to encourage children to get creating too. They developed Scratch, a programming language that is easy and fun for children to play around with.” (P.40)

“Coding teaches children vital skills that teachers are trying to instil anyway, says Bers. Learning about sequences helps a child understand how to make a story flow from start to finish, put numbers in the right order, or have a better understanding of how a day’s activities will proceed. “The idea that order matters is fundamental to literacy, maths, to everyday life,” says Bers.” (P.41)

“For years, the big technological products we have come to take for granted, such as Facebook and Google, have mostly been designed a by very similar-looking section of society: White, Middle-class men who went to the top universities in the US. Could educating a wider swathe of society in coding mean that the next Facebook, or the one after that, reflects more than just a narrow, engineer’s view of how things should look or behave?” (P.41)
Ref: Niall Firth ‘Code generation’ pp.38-41 New Scientist, 6 September 2014, no. 2985


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
This entry was posted in Literate Contexts, Multiliteracies, Understanding literacy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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