From the start of this school year children as young as five in the UK will start to learn coding. While the Government's changes in the learning curriculum for young children has created a furious debate, what does this tell us about the future of modern economies?
The changes to what children in the UK are to be taught are said to focus on the essential skills that they will need in the workplace when they grow up. The Government clearly anticipates a need for more computer coders in years to come, but it is more than this – it's about the workers of the future understanding how technology works. Up until now the compulsory subjects within the computer sphere, at all age levels, have focused on the use of applications and technologies. Only when taking elective subjects have students been given the opportunity to learn about the code working under the hood, so to speak. The new curriculum changes this.
Pupils aged five to seven will be expected to "understand what algorithms are" and to "create and debug simple programs". By the age of 11, pupils will have to "design, use and evaluate computational abstractions that model the state and behavior of real-world problems and physical systems"
By teaching children to understand algorithms and the principles of how applications run on 'computers' you not only allow them to build on this and develop skills to create applications, but you make them better technology 'users'. Anyone who has spent any time on a technology support desk will tell you that the biggest problem with users is that they don't understand 'how' things work. This prevents them from using tools as effectively as they can. The difference is between learning understanding and learning instructions.
Traditional teaching of IT skills has always focused on the instructional method – do X and Y will happen. In this format people learn which buttons to click to perform tasks and achieve what they need to. While this is faster and cheaper as a training methodology, it doesn't provide great value as it does not equip the user to deal with the new and the unexpected. Teaching people to understand technology may be more intensive and difficult in the short-term, but with understanding they can cope and adjust to applying technology in unfamiliar ways, making them more powerful users. A user equipped with understand not only calls upon support far less often, they also explore and use technology in new and innovative ways that they may not have been taught to do – getting more value out of the tools they have been provided.
The Government seems to have acknowledged that if we become an economy of workers who simply know what buttons to press, we are going to be at a disadvantage in years to come against economies where workers understand how the technology works. The same principle holds true of businesses. Those that train their employees to a deeper level of understanding find that their staff achieve more, need less support time per user year, adapt to new technologies faster and even have lower staff turnover. Where systems such as SharePoint can play a daily part in so many user's work lives, investing more in SharePoint User Training can deliver a more effective workforce. Its about giving them a greater level of understanding so they can do more with the tools you provide them with. You don't need to teach your users how to code SharePoint, as after all you could get some seven years olds to do that now.