How inspiring to hear on Thursday that the Queensland government is set to make coding and robotics compulsory subjects for even its youngest primary school students.
The decision has not made everyone happy, however, with one childhood development expert saying children need to be out playing rather than spending more time in front of screens.
Dr Michael Nagle told the ABC that children “engaging with technology may be doing more harm than good in terms of health”.
Certainly there are no health benefits, and maybe even some dangers, in children spending hours in a soporific trance staring blankly at a screen. But that’s not what this program is suggesting. In fact it’s the opposite.
The program will show children that digital technology can be so much more than simply a form of passive entertainment. It will challenge children to come up with great ideas, then use computational thinking to solve problems and turn their ideas into something tangible – a computer game, an app or simply an animation.
Rather than being passive consumers, children will have the chance to be empowered creators.
Dr Dan Crow, a professor of computer science at Leeds University in the UK, believes coding is a vital skill for all children.
“Not knowing the language of computers will be as challenging as being illiterate or innumerate today,” he has said.
Coding is a global language behind the software that does everything from delivering movies to our TVs, sending phone calls over digital networks, enabling us to shop for bargains online and controlling home appliances.
Giving our children access to this language can only empower them to take charge of their computer usage and enrich their use of it.
Screen time guidelines
Back in 1999 when smartphones, digital tablets and email-enabled watches were simply a figment of some tech guru’s imagination, the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) decreed children should not spend more than two hours per day in front of a screen. This guideline has been held up as the final word on screen time for almost two decades.
However two months ago, the AAP released a long-awaited update.
Now the group says it’s how digital media is being used that is most important, not for how long. In fact the AAP has called for paediatricians to advocate for digital literacy, and for parents to act as media monitors, sharing and discussing their children’s media use.
It suggests families draw up their own media-use plan, allocating time for screens after more-important activities such as shared meal times, sport and a good night’s sleep.
The world is changing rapidly, technology is developing exponentially, but children will always need to learn through play, to interact with their environment and get enough sleep and exercise to maintain good health.
These factors, along with consistent, loving caregivers, will remain the cornerstones of a healthy childhood.
Teaching them to code at school is not a threat to any of this. Family dysfunction, poor diet, lack of parental education, poverty and sheer demographics can deprive kids of these basics.
Let’s get angry about that, not an innovation that will provide children with more knowledge about the world in which they will grow up. A world vastly different to today, with jobs and challenges we can’t even imagine yet.
Michelle Hamer is an author and journalist. She has taught professional writing at TAFE and presents writing and literature programs to children through wordsmithsworkshops.com.au.