In the past few years programming has become very popular — moving out from the narrow domain of the “geek” to the broader world, including the K-12 education space. Earlier this year, President Obama asserted and endorsed that requiring computer programming education in schools made sense. And recently, a viral video from code.org encouraged students to learn to code. For those of us in Silicon Valley, it seems as if everyone is aspiring to become a developer.
Programming hasn’t become this popular “just because.” There is a growing realization that knowing how to program is essential, especially for the younger generation. Here are a few reasons why learning programming is important:
1. Programming is a basic literacy
We live in a society where everyone uses a cell phone or a computer, with most using both. Today’s kids live in a very different world than their parents did as children. Today’s world is full of web services – Youtube, Netflix, and Facebook are all a key part of kids’ daily lives. Even the toys they play with are digital and many are programmable, such as Legos and the new-generation LeapFrogs, which have sensors.
It is one thing to know how to use these programs. It’s another, however, to understand how the logic behind them works. This is a challenge today’s kids will love as it deals with the digital world they inhabit. Knowing how to program helps kids understand and tinker with the world that they are living in.
In the future, the amount of technology and our reliance on it will only increase. The students of today need to be able to not only consume this technology, but to understand and control it.
2. It’s a way to create change
The younger generation is a population of change-makers. However, in order to bring innovation and change about they need to learn how to code.
Up until a few decades ago, people spread ideas through the written word. If you had the ability to write, you had the ability to create change. Today, writing is not nearly as effective in changing behavior as manipulating (or leveraging) the digital medium.
Let’s take, for example, the Arab Spring. An effective writer could have incited anger by exposing the events taking place in the region. But what people really needed was a way to organize and protest. An essay, no matter how well-written, wouldn’t have been able to do this. A simple Facebook page could (and did).
The point is, we want our kids to be able to make and change things, and to make things happen. They should be active participants in the global economy, not passive consumers.
3. “You have an idea for then next big tech innovation? Great. Can you bring it to life?”
Everyone has ideas. Unfortunately, only a select few can make them happen. Without proper execution, an idea will never live up to its potential. What separates those who simply have an idea and those who make their ideas a reality is simple: the ability to code.
Do you want your child to be a thinker and innovator who can turn his or her ideas into reality? If so, encourage them to learn how to program.
4. Programming isn’t that hard to learn
In fact, it can be a straightforward process. You receive immediate feedback. For example, if a child programs text to become a specific color and then immediately sees the results she wanted, then the changes she made to her code must’ve worked. Good job! In our culture of “I want it, and I want it now,” instant gratification is valued immensely.
Learning how to program is like learning any other language. The difference, of course, is that programming can be much more powerful. With just a computer, kids can use the skills they learn to build something that might change the world.
In today’s culture, to know how to program is to understand, to build, and to change. All major thought leaders — from President Obama to Bill Gates to Elon Musk to Mark Zuckerberg — agree. For the leaders of tomorrow, there is perhaps no skill as important as learning to program. So if your kids aren’t learning how to program, now’s the time to start.