Coding for kids – a future threat in the job market

Having spent the last six months working for an education technology company, producing online digital content for schools, I have a fairly good understanding of where the average school kid stands in their knowledge and use of modern technology. The truth is, twenty-somethings and over, such as myself, grew up in a different world to kids today – namely, the offline world.

I will refrain from using the terms ‘virtual world’ and ‘real world’, because there is something fundamentally wrong with suggesting our online behaviours, which are very much integrated into our daily lives, are somehow not in the ‘real world’ (checking my emails on the bus to work does not feel like some fantastical ‘virtual world’ to me).

But anyone can see that the way children learn (through digital, interactive media), watch television (online) and play games (on iPads – long gone are the days of the scrabble board) is very different to the comparatively simplistic offline world we were able to grow up in a decade or so ago. So what, you may be thinking, why I am I telling you the obvious? Well, it is worth thinking about because like it or not; kids today are leaving us behind.

In 2014, the primary school curriculum is set to change. One of the biggest changes will be to the subject of ICT.

I’m not sure I did much in the way of ICT at primary school (it certainly wasn’t a subject in its own right until I reachedthe latter years – remembering that in the 90s we barely had the internet). But I do remember this class at high school as being a tutorial for using MS Word, the odd lesson of building a PowerPoint presentation of photos of my favourite pop star (for reference, that was P!nk, because my pre-teen self so ‘got’ being M!ssundaztood) and as an added treat for those ‘computer whizzes’ in the class, there was the chance to learn basic SUM formulas in Excel.

Schools, like the rest of the population, have now noticed the technological shift that’s happened over the last generation, and finally decided they need to cater for it. Kids now should be using computers in most classes, across most subjects; and if you use Excel to make graphs in maths and geography, and write your poetry in Word, the old format of ICT is mostly redundant.

iPad savvy kids can code no problem!

iPad savvy kids can code no problem!

In comes coding. Primary school age children will have the traditional ICT lesson (can you use the word ‘traditional’ for something that’s only two decades old?) replaced with lessons in coding. Five year olds learning to code? I’m pretty scared. Not because of some moral panic over “what might they be exposed to” or “kids are growing up too fast” but because I feel in serious competition.

The five year old coder today is the 20 year old app designer/builder in 15 years time, and that’s a big worry to the humble blogger like me. Yes, I know some basic HTML script, but with the journalism industry – and many other professions (gaming, photo manipulation, sound mixing, etc) – making a huge shift to the app world, with some experts even predicting the dot com world will become entirely app-based, a basic knowledge of paragraph breaks and h1 and h2 tags (search engine optimised headings to the less HTML-aware out there) is not going to suffice.

I imagine that before too long journalists [apply other relevant professions here] will be expected to not only find stories, research stories, write stories, publish stories online, publicise their stories across social media and take their own photos, as is expected now, but we’ll also have to code our stories (photos, video clips and all) to make them publishable in a mobile optimised and app-friendly manner.

So when little Jimmy grows up with an understanding of apps far better than the cobbled-together, on-the-job nuggets that I’ll have picked up by then, and we’re sat in an interview waiting room together – him looking all youthful and yuppie­ – I’m going to take a moment to smugly remind myself that I can make a mean PowerPoint about P!nk, and in my day I got to use REAL finger paints when… well, finger painting.

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