Start your child on the coding path 

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There is a lot of talk in South Africa about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the need for education in the country to start preparing learners for the future world of work from a young age. Unfortunately in South Africa, resources are often lacking and many teachers are not yet equipped to teach coding. However this shouldn’t stop parents from encouraging their children to start with the basics of coding from a young age, an expert says.

As we teach our children to read and speak our mother tongue language so we should start with coding at an early age,” says John Luis, Head of Academics at ADvTECH Schools, a division of South Africa’s largest private education provider.

“Parents who are not tech savvy may find this daunting, so the easiest way to start the children off will be to download some apps to their mobile devices which will use games to kick off the coding thought processes. Learning to code is like learning how to speak, read and write in a different language. Children are very good at learning a variety of languages from a young age so teaching them coding will be no different,” he says.

Luis says that the importance of preparing children for a technologically-enabled future cannot be overstated.

“Technology changes rapidly and our children must be able to adapt, be agile minded and most importantly prepared for the future working world. The 4IR should not be dismissed as a buzzword – it is real, and it is here where our lives will become intertwined with technology, the edges between reality and virtual worlds will blur and we need to ensure our children will be effective workers in this rapidly changing environment.

“This means that in the future world of work, coding will be a fundamental digital skill which our children will need to be literate in much the same way we prepare our children with language, numeracy and physical skills. Coding is no longer a skill reserved for scientists, engineers and IT geeks.”

Luis explains that the fourth industrial revolution is characterised by a rapidly developing technological environment in which disruptive technologies, the Internet of Things, virtual and augmented reality, robotics and artificial intelligence are changing the way we exercise, play, study, live and work.

“Behind this technology, functionality is achieved using code. It is how we communicate with computers, build websites, mobile apps, computer games and instruct robots. The Internet of Things (IoT) is already becoming more integrated into our homes. Smart TVs and watches, automated home management and security are only some of the examples where IoT is already used.”

Like mathematics, becoming competent in the language of coding has many advantages beyond the obvious, he says.

“Coding also helps with maths skills, it fosters creativity, improves problem solving abilities and can improve language and writing skills,” he says.

Internationally coding has long been recognised as a future life skill and is offered as part of the normal primary school curriculum. In South Africa, high schools have had the subject from Grade 10 to 12 as a subject choice (Information Technology) for many years, but it was mostly offered to select learners based on their mathematics marks. Still, only a small percentage of schools have been able to offer the subject as it requires dedicated infrastructure and highly competent teachers.

The situation looks better at progressive private schools, where coding has been introduced as part of the mainstream offering, from as early as pre-prep, where children are introduced via simple techniques and readily available software.

“While many schools are still in the starting blocks, and most haven’t even arrived for the race yet, parents must realise that academic excellence and individual competitiveness in future will require a solid grasp of the language of technology. So the question of a school’s offering in this regard should be one they take very seriously before enrolling their child.

“And where they do not yet have the option of enrolling their child in a school that incorporates coding as part of the mainstream offering – which is the reality for the majority of the country - they should ensure that their child isn’t left behind, by assisting them independently,” says Luis.

One of the options available to these parents, is to search for holiday camps in their area. And where those are not offered, parents can start by helping their child download some of the various free mobile applications and software (listed below) which help young children to start coding, he says.

* Scratch (https://scratch.mit.edu/educators) is a very effective free coding language that is designed specifically for ages 8 to 16 but can be used by people of all ages.

* Alice (https://www.alice.org/) is a block-based programming environment that makes it easy to create animations, build interactive narratives, or program simple games in 3D.

*Microsoft Minecraft Education an educational version of Minecraft, the game popular with children all over the world. (https://education.minecraft.net/) .

* Roblox (https://developer.roblox.com/resources/education/Resources) caters for children from the ages of 8 to 14.

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