STUDENTS are embracing coding and computer sciences in increasing numbers, with millions expected to participate in the global Hour of Code initiative taking place this week.
Over the past five years, the number of students in the Asia Pacific region who are learning to code has increased dramatically, with China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia, introducing education reforms which have placed computer science on the curriculum alongside traditional subjects, such as numeracy and literacy.
This growing interest in computer science is excellent news for economies across the region which are gearing up to compete in the fourth industrial revolution, an economic landscape which will be dominated by digital technologies, robotics, artificial intelligence and next-generation transportation.
In the past, computer science and the ability to write code was considered something only tech-nerds, hackers and residents of Silicon Valley would have any use for, but those stereotypes are finally changing. This generation of students needs to know more than just how to use applications created by software giants, such as Microsoft and Google. Instead, they need to learn how computer software works, so that they will be able to develop their own programmes and apps in the future.
Jean Yang, a computer scientist and technology blogger, explains that “computer science is the study of what machines can do for us.” By learning code, students can unlock those things which computers and technology can do, and empower young people with the skills to utilise technology to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex world.
It’s also been recognised that teaching code provides learners with stimulating mental exercises which support cognitive development, and help students develop skills which are essential for the 21st century, such as complex problem solving skills, critical thinking skills and creativity. As Apple founder, Steve Jobs, once explained, “Everybody in this country should learn to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.”
Large corporations such as Microsoft, Google and Disney have also played an important role inspiring young people to begin coding, by making computer sciences more accessible and more engaging, with learner-centered, intuitive tutorials such as those available with the Hour Of Code initiative.
The ‘Hour of Code’, which coincides with Computer Science Week, takes place during the first week of December each year. The initiative was initially launched in the US to ‘demystify the art of coding’ and expand student participation in computer science. Since 2013, it is estimated that over 100 millions students, from 180 different countries, have enrolled on Hour of Code tutorials.
In countries such as China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, which have embraced the introduction of computer sciences in primary and secondary schools, the ‘Hour of Code’ initiative has gained considerable support with thousands of students gearing up to take this year’s latest Hour of Code tutorials, such as the Minecraft ‘Hero’s Journey’.
The Minecraft tutorials uses Blocky to introduce learners to the basics of computer code. Students use these blocks to program a Minecraft character to complete various tasks. Under each block is a line of Java code and the students can ‘look under the hood’ to see the actual code which is being used. Not only are these tutorials easy to follow but they also introduce learners to ‘commands’, ‘repeat loops’ and ‘if statements’, concepts which are the foundation of all computer programming.
Don Carlson, Education Director at Microsoft Asia Pacific, has been encouraging schools across the region to make computer science available to students because, “Coding empowers young people, giving them the tools they need to not only express themselves, but also transform the way they think critically and solve complex problems. When students use technology to create something of their own design by coding, it builds both technical skill and confidence – both of which are critical for success in the future.”
To celebrate Computer Science Week, and the Hour of Code initiative, there are a range of computers science events happening across the Asia Pacific region, this December, including; Minecraft events at elementary schools across Japan, Hour of Code camps in South Korea, special Hour of Code tutorials for visually impaired children in India, a Microsoft sponsored event in the Philippines to inspire more young women to take up computer sciences, and a coding boot camp in Singapore for young adults with disabilities.
As this generation of learners grows up more tech savvy, and more aware of technology’s potential, it’s hoped they will be able to apply their skills to successfully overcome the challenges of climate change, overpopulation, rapid urbanisation, mass migration, health epidemics and economic instability – challenges which will only be overcome with technology and human ingenuity.
For any teachers, students, or parents, interested in getting involved in this year’s Hour of Code initiative, there is still time to sign up and host an event, or simply enrol on a one-hour tutorial – it could be the most inspiring 60 minutes of your week.
Daniel Maxwell is a writer and educator.