The ‘Three Rs’ (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) are no longer enough to ensure that our children will be literate. We need to add a ‘fourth R’ to primary school curricula – programming, an essential component of literacy in the 21st century. Regardless of their chosen future employment, programming skills will help children to function in the technology-focused world they will be living in as adults.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is currently included – at least in theory – in Egyptian school curricula, but the focus is on teaching students how to use computers, applications, and programs. Programming would teach children how computers are built and how they work. It would give them the skills to design and create programs and applications and to shape the behavior of operating systems, applications, websites, etc. There is a vital difference between passively using technology and actually understanding and controlling it – and the tool that will make this happen is programming. The example of 12-year old Jordan Casey, who developed a game that trended in the Apple iTunes store, proves that programming can be taught really early in Egyptian schools.
The obvious argument for teaching software development in schools is economics and employability. Acquiring the skills needed to create, design and adapt technology to meet future requirements will help to overcome the “skills gap” that exists between the growing number of technology jobs available and the people qualified to fill them. Yet programming is not only important for jobs that require using code directly; software developers, web designers, robotics engineers, computer scientists and the like.
Knowing the basics of how computers work and communicate prepares children for the technology-focused world that they will inherit. Apart from career preparation, programming helps to develop skills such as logical reasoning, problem solving and creativity, enabling students to evaluate benefits, opportunities, and risks. Just as we teach children biology so that they can understand the world around them, teaching them basic programming skills will enable them to engage with a world increasingly dominated by computer technology.
Almost all aspects of our daily lives today (communications, social media, shopping, banking, education …) involve computing, and this reliance on technology will only increase. Basic programming skills enhance the value and capability of employees in many different fields and are an asset that makes for smarter and more effective trade, manufacturing, business – and even farming. That’s why programming is a crucial foundational skill that we should start teaching to young children in primary school.
Recent research indicates that young brains formulate ‘procedural memory’ (memories that are embedded in the psyche and that can be recalled naturally, without effort) better than older brains. This explains why younger children learn new languages easily, why most accomplished musicians start learning to play an instrument when they are very young (when procedural memory is most sensitive), etc. This same neural mechanism also makes young children in primary school highly receptive to computer languages.
In short, ‘digital literacy’ benefits everyone in our rapidly changing world; it profoundly affects not only future careers but also our country’s prosperity.
Author: Sawsan Elzayyat
Sawsan is an independent writing, editing, and translation professional. She has traveled extensively in Asia and Africa and is most interested in global development issues and the enhancement of the quality of life of citizens in less advantaged nations.