Should programming be made compulsory in secondary school?

By Izzy

As a secondary school student, I feel like I understand the many opinions my age group have about technology. Whilst all of us use it on a daily basis, the majority have only ever done Internet Safety lessons, which in my school are compulsory until year 9. However, does the fact that technology is an integral part of our lives mean we must understand fully all the hardware in our phones and be able to create software ourselves?

On the one hand, by exposing teenagers to programming and its applications during school, you are more likely to provide those who haven’t considered technology as a future career with more options. Especially for girls, who may have not been ever told that they could succeed in such a male dominated space, an introduction to key concepts and applications of technology could be the thing that sparks a lifelong interest. At the moment, this kind of exposure is a bonus, given only to teenagers with parents in the industry, or whose parents have paid for a private education and expect the links with industry to have been established for them. Initiatives like Teensinai are attempting to level the playing field, but their reach, however wide, doesn’t compare to that of schools. Our education system could be producing thousands of people who are not only interested in technology, but also feel like they are equipped to either enter industry, or teach themselves the necessary skills to do so.

On the other hand, some students may feel overwhelmed by how much there is to learn, and how quickly the landscape changes. Unlike many other subjects taught at school, learning to code is more about exposure and learning about how you personally find solutions. The old-fashioned way some schools choose to teach programming (and the dead languages they choose to teach it with) could ruin people’s excitement and stop a budding interest in its tracks. Programming is not something you can teach by simply drilling functions into student’s heads and expecting them to remember and apply them. The way you learn something can have a massive effect on your opinion of the subject, and the traditional teaching style could end up turning more children away from learning about technology.

That being said, if the education system could find a way to teach students to program in a more flexible and modern way, it could be exactly what is needed to help people start to learn about computer science. One thing that the education system has that many other courses online do not is that it understands the students. Teachers know they are teaching teenagers, who may feel threatened by how closed the programming community can sometimes be. The “either you know everything or you know nothing” mindset many people online adopt can and has stopped so many people from even attempting to learn about technology. Teachers understand that their students will have a limited knowledge, and could help them break through the first barriers so they can really start to thrive off of the information the internet can offer, instead of feeling threatened and embarrassed by how much is out there and how little they know.

From my point of view, I believe learning about computational thinking and the ethics surrounding technology should definitely be made compulsory, until our educators can find a better way to teach the younger generations about programming. In a world where technology is becoming irreplaceable, being able to understand how and why tech works the way it does is a skill that may go undervalued by the education system, but is crucial in industry, whether you are developing the solutions or are working alongside those who are. Whilst many people may not gravitate towards programming and development itself, if schools helped their students to learn about how their world is changing, they could finally start to close the digital divide for future generations and make sure everyone is granted equal opportunities to achieve whatever they set their minds to!

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