• The Knox School of Santa Barbara

Benefits of Learning Programming at a Young Age

Updated: Sep 13, 2020

By: Angela Tanner, Ph.D.

"Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think." 

- Steve Jobs

Today, we're surrounded by technology. Many students have their own tablets and phones-and yet, few are learning how computers actually work.

While the use of technology in schools - and its continued prevalence amongst the lives of young people - remains a much-debated topic, it's one that teachers and parents are forced to grapple with on a daily basis. Interestingly, while the presence of technology has remained constant, the ways that schools are using it has changed considerably over the last few decades.

In the very early days of technology and schools, the emphasis was almost completely upon learning to interact with computers at the level of a programmer. Students fortunate enough to attend a school with a computer lab would learn simple computer languages like BASIC and PASCAL, and perhaps even begin to understand concepts like Boolean logic.

As computers became more affordable, and thus more widespread, the emphasis on learning to program computers shifted towards learning to use them as tools. Instead of learning computer languages, for example, students learnt to use applications, like Microsoft Word or Excel. Almost overnight, computer science was replaced by Information and Communications Technology, and with only a few exceptions, learning about programming disappeared from schools.

There is a renewed interest in many countries, like Australia, the UK, and Korea, in developing skills in programming and writing code amongst school-aged students. Yet the topic of programming might seem an abstract one to many people. Why does a student need to know how to program a computer? Below are a few of the reasons why:

1.  While learning how to use applications on a computer is important, it doesn't obviate the need to understand what the computer is doing. In fact, the two goals are complementary, rather than opposing. Better understanding of computer science will lead to better results with applications.

2. There has been a lot of study into the benefits of learning to program. According to recent studies, teaching basic coding can increase problem solving skills. Golpin (2014) writes, "being able to follow programming logic trains the mind to think in more analytical ways".

3. According to Seymour Papert (Schwarz, 1999), one of the best known advocates for teaching computer science and programming in schools, "the computer's true power as an educational medium lies in the ability to facilitate and extend children's awesome natural ability and drive to construct, hypothesize, explore, experiment, evaluate, draw conclusions -- in short to learn -- all by themselves." "It's one thing for a child to play a computer game; it's another thing altogether for a child to build his or her own game."

4. "The ability to speak and structure your thinking in a way a computer understands will be one of the core future skills, whatever your field," says Linda Liukas, founder of the Rails Girls coding organization. Ultimately, children can benefit from learning code because they learn computational thinking.

5. There are benefits beyond logical thinking too. Brian Heese (2014) writes: 'when you learn computer programming you learn how to check your work for details, how to apply logic and how to persist at a task. You also learn how to ask a good question, often in written form. Finally you learn how to collaborate because much programming today is accomplished in teams. These timeless skills and learning behaviors will endure far longer than any programming language.'

Content was collected from several sources, including Keith Heggart/Edutopia.

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