We should keep kids coding in lockdown
As COVID-19 accelerates us towards a digital future, helping parents teach children digital skills at home has never been more important. Anne Marie Neatham, Office of the CTO at Ocado Technology, explains why we must keep kids coding.
A diverse, digital-first future for the UK
Digital literacy is mandated as part of our national curriculum from an early age, not simply to nurture the next generation of computer scientists – but also to prepare children for the smarter and more automated world they will inhabit.
While it may feel like lockdown has accelerated the shift towards digitally-focused careers, it’s long been recognised as important that all children leave school understanding the technology they will use in their work and daily lives. A 2019 report from the Open University, Bridging the Digital Divide found 9 in 10 UK companies currently have a digital skills shortage.
Learning digital skills is about much more than teaching specific coding languages. The logical thinking and meta-skills such as mind-mapping and goal-setting developed during a digital education, prepare children to take their place in society as knowledgeable individuals instead of passive consumers.
What’s more, tackling the existing lack of diversity within the technology and wider STEM fields has to start early. It’s crucial to encourage children from every gender, background and race to build their digital skills to prevent certain stereotypes from ever developing.
Building young people’s digital skills is not just a nice-to-have, it’s a need-to-have. Falling behind in establishing and maintaining these crucial digital skills is not only damaging for children but for the UK as a whole: this is why we need to keep kids coding.
How parents can easily teach digital skills at home
As families face the challenges of keeping children motivated to continue with lessons remotely, core subjects like Maths and English will take priority – but we need to make sure that digital skills do not slip through the cracks.
Here are some pointers on what to look out for in a “teach-at-home” tool, so that those who have no previous experience of coding can support learning in the subject.
1. Look for tools that don’t require technical expertise from the lesson-givers
It’s unlikely that many families will have a programming expert at home waiting to teach the kids! And even for those of us who do have the skills – we aren’t likely to have the time to carve out teaching methods and materials that cater to a younger generation who are just starting out. Many parents and caregivers report that they are not familiar enough with computer science to feel confident in delivering lessons in subjects like coding. They’re not alone; as recently as 2017, 67% of teachers felt they were under-equipped to teach the UKs coding curriculum!
For people in this boat, it’s important to choose a tool that allows you to teach without being familiar with how to code. Recognition of the importance of accessibility is why Code for Life’s Rapid Router was designed to help teachers with no experience of computer programming teach children how to code, which makes it a great option for anyone to do the same.
2. Look for tools aligned with the National Curriculum
Parents may be feeling pressured to encourage children to take time away from screens, but it can be used as a force for good – if it meets the educational goals set by the UK National Curriculum Computing strand. That’s why we developed Rapid Router in conjunction with Computing educators and aligned it to the National Curriculum for Key Stage 1, 2, and 3. Facebook communities, such as the one offered by Code for Life UK, can be a great place for families to seek advice and guidance concerning where their child’s ability currently sits.
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3. There’s no need to pay for fun with learning
There are a lot of expensive tools out there, but all you really need is a good free tool which helps children learn coding languages like Blockly and Python, as well as programming principles – all useful for future careers in a range of digital environments.
Choosing a tool with a gaming element and inclusive characters encourages children to have fun while they learn, and will show that you don’t have to fit a certain gender, race or personality type to enjoy coding.
Keep Kids Coding
There’s still a lot of uncertainty out there, but one thing is for sure: digital skills are critical to help inspire and train the next generation of developers, as well as to equip the children of today with the tools for a more tech-forward future. We believe passionately in the value of keeping kids coding, for today, and the future.