We must teach kids coding

The keys to a digital future

Photo: Paul Inkles (Flickr)

Photo: Paul Inkles (Flickr)

They are highly paid and highly sought after, and have opportunities to work for some of the world’s largest and progressive companies. And yet, every year the ICT industry is crying out for skilled employees. So why aren’t more Australian kids coding?

As a nation – and indeed as a society – we have a problem with getting kids into coding. Despite the massive expansion of the digital world and the incredible capability of technology, the number of people becoming IT practitioners does not seemed to have changed much in the last 20 years. Although a career in software engineering provides advantages as the future becomes increasingly dominated by computer-driven technology, the industry is still struggling to connect with a new generation of Australians

This is perhaps all the more surprising given today’s young people have grown up with technology. They are the first ‘digital natives’ whose experiences of the world are in many ways shaped by social media, the internet and an array of advanced technologies.

A digital world

This experience, however, could be contributing to the problem. In many ways the technology is just too good to drive people to wonder how they could make it better. People are now so well catered-to by technology that there’s less reason to pop open the hood to see what makes your computer work.

When I started coding, some thirty years ago, it was curiosity that drove me to discover what I could do with this frankly plain and practical device. Things weren’t as highly crafted in those days, and the user experience requirement wasn’t as great.

I wanted to not only find out how this new device ran, but how I could make it better. I was curious to see what would happen if I started tinkering inside – something that would be unimaginable with most of today’s expensive digital devices.

Inspiring a generation

If we are to truly set them up for the world of the future, it’s that sense of curiosity that we need to stimulate in today’s kids.

To inspire a new generation of software engineers, we should start getting children engaged with not just the concept of coding, but also the power of it – how it can help them control and change their world.

I believe that every school should be teaching their students how to code, right from when they are beginning to learn. In doing so, we should be fundamentally reforming the curriculum to recognise coding not just as a specialist subject or vocational option, but as the fourth pillar of educational practice alongside reading, writing and maths.

To do this, we will have to address upskilling teachers. For many in the career now, coding was something teachers were unlikely to have been exposed to at any stage of their training, let alone being a subject they feel comfortable integrating into their daily classroom experience.

It doesn’t end with teachers however, parents can also play a role in helping their kids experience the creativity and fun made possible by computer programming. A good way to do this is getting kids involved in the many ways coding can apply to their world – whether this be building robots or creating games. While this is clearly going to be more challenging if you are not the most tech-savvy, there are a growing number of games, after-school groups and events designed specifically to introduce kids to coding.

Engaging women in technology

Many marketers from the 1970s and 80s would often promote personal computers mainly to boys, despite Lord Byron’s daughter Ada being recognised as one of the world’s first computer programmers. This lack of awareness helped to create a culture that would largely exclude women from the industry for decades to come

Although it still has a long way to go, the industry is starting to change. It will take a positive, concerted effort to open the world of coding up to more women. In our experience at MYOB, for example, less than 15 per cent of our developer applicants are female.

To help increase this figure and provide more opportunities for women, we’ve recently launched the DevelopHER initiative, which aims to promote diversity in the software industry by offering a paid 360-hour internship program, designed to develop women into graduate-level software engineers.

Changing our thinking

Ultimately, a large part of our problem is the attitude we have towards coding. Coding is not a rare science; it’s a trade – one as fundamental to the society we live in as the expertise required to build houses, bridges and highways.

Looking at coding this way, we can begin to see how important it is to our kid’s futures. We don’t want them to just be drivers on someone else’s highway. We want to give our kids the skills to build their own roads, so they can chart their own courses into the future.

Simon Raik-Allen is Chief Technical Officer, MYOB

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Simon Raik-Allen

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