Last Wednesday the PM likened teaching kids coding to child labour, but shortly after he reassured us that the government is already implementing this (coding across the curriculum, that is, not child labour).
While we can safely leave it to the politicians to comment on this pointless flip-flopping, it is worthwhile to reflect on the reasons how such an argument can even arise….
Who would object to introducing kids in primary school to structured, logical reasoning? Not even the PM, I suspect. And this is exactly what we are advocating: to introduce them to Computational Thinking, a conceptual framework for structured problem solving that is on par with mathematics as a discipline of rational thought.
Calling this “coding” doesn’t help our case.
What does the term “coding” evoke for many? Pale hackers slaving away in sunlight deprived cubicles. Arguably that is exactly the picture Tony Abbott has in mind.
We have no one but ourselves to blame for this terminology.
Sometimes history seems to repeat itself: In the 90s the formula “computing=multimedia and the web” briefly gave IT an enormous boost in popularity, but in the long run it all but killed its credentials. The PM’s statement can at least serve as a warning that riding the currently fashionable “everybody needs to learn coding” wave may take us in a similar direction.
Coding is only one aspect of Computational Thinking, and just like advanced mathematics it may not be for everyone. But children need to be introduced to all the mental frameworks that can help them to understand the real world and to tackle its problems. Computational Thinking is a very powerful and fundamental method in this arsenal. Introducing kids to it as early as possible will empower the next generation to cope with many challenges far beyond coding.
If you missed the original event, one of the many newspaper articles can be found here in the SMH.