Business Unusual

President Cyril Ramaphosa wants to make coding compulsory in public schools

President Ramaphosa was asked during a Twitter Q&A if programming would become a compulsory subject in primary school. He responded to say he agreed and would direct the education department to implement as soon as possible. This article looks at what that may entail.

South African schools have been adding technology subjects to the curriculum for some time. The first computer subjects were added 40 years ago. You may be impressed with that, but considering that we are still talking about it, it suggests we have not been very successful at implementation and adoption.

There are two parts: the hardware and IT related subjects and the software-based subjects. Both are needed, but the challenge will be to determine how to include them in a system that likely has too few able to teach it.

What level

One potential option would be to introduce it at a basic level when teachers could more easily be trained on the course material. Children with early exposure may show an aptitude early on too and be encouraged to progress even outside of the school environment to create an advanced class of kids that may even be asked to help teach the teachers or other kids at lower levels.

Who will teach it?

Getting fans of IT and software to opt to become teachers rather than pursue the potentially more lucrative path in the industry will be difficult.

Perhaps the improvements to online courses with video lectures and access to those in the industry to serve as mentors may see many more kids learn the basics using a different model to the one used at the moment.

Which language should be used?

Teaching the IT and hardware subjects may prove more challenging as ideally, you would need to give access to a suitable hardware environment.

The programming elements only need a suitable machine to write and test the code. The challenge here may be the choice of which language or languages should be used.

There are a lot, hundreds, although the most popular are less than a dozen.

For young children, a good starting point may be Scratch. It is less an actual programming language than a starting point for understanding the basics of computational thinking. It would not surprise you that we do not think like computers or rather than computers for all their advances can’t think like us. Computational thinking helps us simplify the task we want to complete by defining it in a way that a machine can process.

The other popular languages have a focus depending on where it is used; web environments, games, calculations, etc.

Should it be compulsory?

There is a good argument to say that as not everyone is drawn to doing computer work, it should be an elective course rather than a compulsory one. But there is a very good chance that programming work will soon stop being a glamorous and exotic sounding career and instead become a very mainstream one, possibly even a blue-collar type job as argued by Wired magazine back in 2017.

Even if you were keen and the education department does move with speed, those currently in grade 7 will finish their high school career before anything is in place. For those students, the good news is that there are some good online courses that can be taken now. The best case scenario would be for parents to opt for a basic course and to do it with their child. It will be easier than learning a musical instrument with your child. Here are some options to consider.

It may take a generation but it seems very likely that almost every occupation will feature software as part of the job. So like being taught to write allows us to communicate with other humans, being taught to code allows us to communicate with machines and we look set to do a lot more of that in the future.

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