Everyone should learn how to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.
The current state of STEM
As the world’s technological capabilities continue to grow at breakneck speed, so too must the skillsets of the individuals who use those technologies. It’s becoming an increasing necessity that grandparents learn to use Skype, that parents be in the know about Snapchat’s latest developments and that children learn to code so that they can begin to truly understand the possibilities that technology offers.
However, there appears to be a serious imbalance between technologies created and the number of talented individuals behind the innovations. One UNESCO paper noted “a global “talent shortage” of 38 per cent, with the top ten hardest jobs to fill including a number of STEM-related professions”. Closer to home, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills reported in 2016 that recruitment was considered “hard” for 43% of STEM vacancies, and, according to CodeClan, there was “a shortage of approximately 11,000 digital skilled workers in Scotland“.
I think it’s safe to say that STEM is experiencing a talent deficit that needs to be rectified if we’re to continue to expand our technological capabilities and exist in our society as it digitally transforms before our eyes.
The benefits of learning to code
It’s really important to know that coding isn’t the fast and furious typing you saw Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller show off in Hackers.
Coding is about logic and language, but it also requires creativity (which is plentiful in children) for problem solving.
Steve Jobs’ famous quote is not as facetious as it first sounds. Coding requires computational thinking – an invaluable ability to solve problems with abstract thinking that is highly transferrable across a variety of career paths including mechanical engineering, physics, archaeology and music. J. Paul Gibson makes a passionate argument that children should learn to code over languages and music that expands on these points.
In the same vein as Gibson, multiple organisations, including the BBC, have taken this idea of coding for kids seriously and more opportunities are arising for young people to learn to code. And it makes sense – coding helps foster a variety of invaluable life skills and career opportunities that are extremely beneficial. As Bill Gates put it: “learning to write programs stretches your mind, helps you think better…”
On top of that, coding is fun.
CoderDojo Scotland, part of a global organisation, is on a mission to enrich young people’s lives in these qualities by setting up free coding clubs across the country. CoderDojo is well-known within development circles, and I was keen to get involved in their mentoring programme in Edinburgh. When I got in touch with them, I learned that CoderDojo Edinburgh had no organiser and as a result there was no regularity to events. I agreed to organise events if they could put me in touch with mentors, venues and resources.
I introduced the concept of the CoderDojo to Storm and with the resource, space and a vest interest in promoting coding and development to younger generations, they were keen to get involved.
Our team are currently working to produce the Dojos and we come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are developers, but we also have members from the Content, UX and Digital Marketing teams who have basic coding knowledge and a lot of enthusiasm.
Technology is everywhere
From the traffic lights you get caught at in the morning to your coffee machine in the breakroom. There’s an increasing demand in STEM fields to facilitate and innovate, and CoderDojo is one way of hopefully encouraging young people to meet that demand.
I also think it’s hugely important to have some awareness of how things work. We’re increasingly incorporating technology into our lives. Wearables, contactless payment and Alexa are newer, but even how computer games hook up to our television or how trains work – these are all common touchpoints in our lives with technology, but alarmingly few people really understand the basic tech that makes these things work.
I’m especially invested in cultivating young female coders because, as this article from Girls in Tech highlights, female students’ interest in pursuing STEM degrees has declined over recent years.
Looking to the future, I’d like to see the CoderDojo Edinburgh continue to provide a fun, sociable learning environment for young people showing an active interest in coding and development. Our code projects are interactive, often involving craft materials and creativity. There are some really cool things happening in the tech world just now, with advancements seemingly being produced every day. There hasn’t been a better time to get started in the tech world, and harnessing that interest from such a young age can only be a positive thing.
It would be amazing to see CoderDojo Edinburgh expand, too. We’re going to trial longer term projects that run over the course of several weeks so participants can work on coding projects of a larger scale and hopefully they’ll be more interesting too! They’ll help improve coding abilities and require a bit of problem solving. The CoderDojo is aimed at students at all levels of coding ability, from complete beginners to the well-versed. Our next event is being held in the Storm ID office on September 28th and we still have spaces available. Check out the event listing for more information and sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date with the latest events.
Interested in getting involved from the mentoring side? We’re always looking to grow our team of mentors. Email Amandine at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.