Think about your own simple childhood and how much society has changed since you were a kid. Now imagine the society our kids will be living in, in 20 or 30 years’ time? Are they going to be ready for it?
Steve Jobs once famously said: “I think everybody… should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.” Coding is a skill that more and more experts are encouraging children to take up and it’s now easier than ever before to access this kind of education, to future proof our kids.
For the uninitiated, coding forms the building blocks for digital platforms such as websites, apps, programs and games. Through this computer programming system, coders are able to develop a range of software for use on computers, smartphones, technical machinery and other devices.
Creative Collective founder and CEO Yvette Adams says teaching kids to code is not only giving them important skills and new ways of thinking, it’s also helping put Australia on the digital map by preparing the next generation of digital thinkers.
The 2013 iAwards’ ICT Woman of the Year, 2010 Telstra Business Women’s Awards Business Owner of the Year and self professed “serial entrepreneur”, Yvette visited Silicon Valley in 2013 as part of a study tour with Commonwealth Bank’s Women in Focus program. She says she saw many of the fast-growing tech companies, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Eventbrite and more, desperate to hire coders.
“At the moment, Australia is a big consumer of technology but we’ve still got a long way to go when it comes to creating it,” she explains. “There is a big difference between consuming and creating something. If our kids have these skills, they will have many more opportunities.”
Yvette says there have been some very exciting advances in education around technology. She says that in September last year, the Education Council (a gathering of education ministers from states, territories and the Commonwealth) signed off on the nation’s Digital Technologies curriculum – the first effort to teach computational thinking to students from infants’ school to late high school.
“But we’ve still got a long way to go. Learning to code in school holiday programs as an extra-curricular activity is one of the most popular extra-curricular activities in the United States. We haven’t quite mobilised awareness or interest to this level yet.”
Brisbane City Council is, however, leading the way locally in future-proofing children through its CoderDojo Brisbane program. The first of its kind in Australia, CoderDojo Brisbane is a free and open non-profit movement enabling children aged 7-17 to learn to code through sessions at local libraries hosted by local industry-expert mentors. The CoderDojo movement began in Ireland in 2011 and has since gone global, with dojos found in 23 countries, reaching thousands of young people. Brisbane’s program marked its 1000 mini-participant late in 2015.
“This is a brilliant initiative offering the city’s youth practical digital skills from a real-world perspective and industry experience that is not part of standard schooling curriculum,” Lord Mayor Graham Quirk says. “Having these skills is becoming increasingly essential for the next generation in this digital age and it increases their employability when they go on to university and enter the workforce.”
Sphero SPRK Edition is one ‘toy’ taking kids’ entertainment to a whole other level of educational wow, proving that incidental coding training is easy. Unveiled for the first time in Australia at QUT’s Robotronica festival in Brisbane in August last year, Sphero SPRK Edition is a spherical app-controlled robot. Through its clear outer shell, users can inspect Sphero’s fascinating inner workings and obtain an immediate connection between the program they created via the associated app and how the ‘guts’ of their Sphero works. Sphero SPRK Edition and its app are designed to inspire a love of robotics, coding and STEM principles while teaching the power of cause, effect and conditions in programming. It encourages users to think deeper and generate new ideas for what’s possible between a program, a robot, the physical world and their imagination.
According to Sphero CCO Rob Maigret, the robot is for “the makers, hackers, and dreamers of the future – for those who would rather learn by doing, not by watching”.
“There’s no rule that says learning shouldn’t be fun, or that playing can’t be valuable,” Rob says.
Yvette says programs like CoderDojo, workshops run by local educational institutes, relevant YouTube channels and other online study all support creative extra-curricular digital learning. Her book, No Kidding – Why Our Kids Know More About Technology Than Us & What We Can Do About It, is another source of relevant information featuring about 500 apps and websites, many of which teach kids (and adults!) coding.
“Don’t guide your kids into traditional careers which may well not exist by the time they graduate from high school or Uni,” Yvette says. “Guide them into a commitment to life-long learning, nurture their creativity and curiosity and their interest in all forms of technology – creating it and not just consuming it is key. Don’t just let them play a game – get them thinking about how they could make that game.
“If you can create technology, you can change the world.” she says.
BECOME A CODING NINJA
Brisbane City Council’s CoderDojo Brisbane program offers free coding training to kids aged 7-17 years. The six-week sessions are held on Saturdays in council libraries at Brisbane Square, Sunnybank Hills, Grange, Kenmore, Holland Park, Carindale and Chermside. Participants must bring their own lap top and an adult must accompany children aged 15 years and under. Visit the CoderDojo Brisbane website to register your interest // www.coderdojobrisbane.com.au