With the introduction of the Smart Nation initiative, coding has been hailed as the key to better job prospects, especially in the not-so-distant future where technology is expected to permeate nearly every aspect of life and work. The stratospheric success of tech unicorns the likes of Airbnb, Uber, and closer to home, Grab and Garena, further perpetuate the notion of coding as the hot new must-have skill; being a programmer or developer now takes the place where doctor and lawyers used to stand in parents’ hearts. This has caused a slew of coding academies to mushroom, all eager for a slice of the pie.
All that is very well and good, but for children who have years more before they enter the workforce, how vital is it that they learn how to code? The reality is, coding professionally is a dynamic and fast-paced career path. Most of us have heard of Java, HTML, Python, C++, but there are literally thousands of programming languages, with more being created every year. Many are not bound to an international or even national standard, and professional programmers will likely use dozens in their career. The ability to learn and adapt quickly, while having a deep understanding of which language is best for each scenario, is what separates professional programmers from hobbyists.
In fact, with the advancement of artificial intelligence and machine learning, we could very well progress to a point where human programmers are rendered obsolete. Just as it has been for manual tasks that have now been automated, this is a good thing as it allows us to focus on tasks that actually require a human touch and do more productive and meaningful work.
Yes, coding is overhyped. What then?
None of these diminishes the relevance and importance of learning to code; if anything, it strengthens them. Beyond the ability to code, Smart Nation is about developing computational thinking as a national capability.
23 secondary school now offer computing as an ‘O’ Level subject, following the inclusion of Computing as an ‘A’ Level subject. Both syllabi cover the programming language Python. At Kodecoon, learning Python is made fun. Deddy Setiadi, co-founder of Kodecoon, shared that, “While Python is a widely used programming language today, it is not the easiest for a child to start his/her programming journey with. We use various games and challenges to keep a child's interest going. We don't just get them to code 'boring' programmes and run models, we make things more relatable through games such as Flappy Bird, Snakes game, etc.” He noted at Kode It, Sparkies! 2019 that students who take up coding may also open a new avenue to secondary school and junior college admissions through the Direct School Admissions programme.
The benefits of learning to code extend beyond academic settings. As its name suggests, computational thinking is about developing solutions that can be understood by a computer, by breaking down problems into smaller components, recognising similarities, zooming in on pertinent details and creating reliable solutions that can be replicated. Basically, it allows us to understand situations thoroughly in order to interpret and resolve them. Just like the ability to learn and adapt quickly, this is a skill which is universally applicable, not limited to specific vocations.
But more importantly, exposure to coding as a child is immensely beneficial for the simple fact that you do not fear what you know. Most of us use digital devices and applications in our daily lives, but how many of us can successfully troubleshoot them when they are not working? The truth is, technology is a mystery for many. In an increasingly digital world, this will not do. By familiarising your child (or even yourself) with coding, you remove some of that mystery. Simply knowing the capabilities of technology and how they can be applied, you open the door to innovative solutions.