It is easy, when thinking about the education system, to get lost in thinking about traditions. Many people seem to think that current schools should be little different from when they themselves were children. While there is some value in tradition, however, this attitude causes people to lose sight of the true purpose of the education system.
Schools serve many important functions in society. They allow parents to get some guaranteed time away from their kids to work and get things done. They allow children to meet other children and starting learning about friends and relationships. They offer an easy intervention point for children who have troubling home lives and may need help from the state. However, none of these reasons are the primary reason for putting children in school.
The real stated goal of the education system is, well, education. Specifically, schools are supposed to provide children with the tools they need to be successful in society at large. Schools teach children to read because adults cannot function without a basic level of literacy. Schools teach children basic math so that they will be able to keep track of money and understand other simple math problems in the real world. Schools teach history so that children will understand the context of the society in which they live. A school is a machine that turns children into functional, responsible adults.
However, the world is changing, more rapidly now than at any other point in human history. Technological progress, until very recently, was a slow crawl that left plenty of time for people to adapt and slowly integrate the new ideas. However, with the rise of computers, that has all changed. Children today are growing up in a world in which any trivia or math question can be answered, any language translated, any reference located, simply by speaking natural language into a device smaller than a deck of cards. This is so radically different from children of a hundred years ago that the experiences are almost incomparable.
Through all this change, however, education has remained relatively stagnant. As computers grew to become a minor sector of the economy, and then a major one, and then a dominant one, schools slowly added a few computer labs to teach typing to elementary students. While this is a positive step, it is nowhere near sufficient.
Computers are now a foundational part of society, and schools that do not focus heavily on teaching children how they work and how to use them are failing at their most foundational responsibility. Schools are meant to prepare children for the world in which they live, and the world in which they will live upon reaching adulthood will in all likelihood be even more computer saturated than the world in which we are living today.
There is a very palpable gap in middle and high school curricula compared to those of colleges and universities. While colleges have a financial incentive to keep up with the times and offer relevant degrees, public schools are a much slower boat to turn, and thus are still lagging behind. While high schools offer almost the same core classes as can be found on college campuses: English, Math, History, Art, Physical Education, and Science, there is one notable exception. Almost no high schools today offer Computer Science, despite CS being one of the most popular and successful college majors.
While it is obvious that coding should be at least an elective offered in high school, there are good arguments that coding should in fact be mandatory learning for children, and at a younger age. When confronted with this argument, many people balk, saying that coding is only for a select group of the population, and it should not be forced on the majority. However, this argument does not hold water.
For one thing, computational thinking, just like language processing www.directics.com, has been shown to be best learned at a young age, while the mind is still malleable. Just as it is said that a non-native speaker of a language who learns after the age of 12 will always have a noticeable accent, so too is coding best internalized by young brains. Computer coding is done in programming languages, after all.
Another argument is that coding will not be useful to most students. However, this is a bad argument for a number of reasons. For one thing, most students will also never need to graph a parabola or know how to calculate the resistance of a circuit. We agree to teach students these things not because they are directly applicable to each life, but because the exposure to these concepts teaches them to think abstractly. Computer programming is the language of logic and teaching these concepts to children will open their minds to creative problem solving in a way that will serve them well no matter what paths their lives take.
In addition, the argument that coding is not universally useful is growing thinner as time goes on. As computers integrate themselves into every aspect of society, knowing the specifics about how they work becomes more useful. Knowing how the code behind a program functions means children will be able to better understand the technology that surrounds them and will become more useful the more computers exist. Phones, cars, and even some homes and appliances are currently controlled by computers. How many more aspects of life will be governed by coding by the time today’s Kindergartners graduate high school?
The school system is currently failing children by not adequately preparing them for the world in which we live. As computers take over more facets of our lives, a working knowledge of computer programming is increasingly an essential skill. Computer programming teaches computational logic, which will be applicable for people of all walks of life as we move further into our digital future. Coding should be mandatory in public schools starting from a young age, in order to teach children most effectively and prepare them for the world into which they will graduate.