There are some who will strongly agree with the statement made in the title. There are others who will disagree. In the debate on the role of coding in education, especially for children, there is no consensus on this point.
In this blog I will do my best to present both sides of the argument. I'm not claiming to be neutral though. I do believe that learning to code is already very important and will become increasingly so over the coming years.
Let's look at some of the main arguments used in the debate around kids' coding.
More Technology = More Software Developers Needed
We have more technology that relies on computers, in one form or another, in our society today than at any point in the past. And it's not controversial to claim that it is very likely this will keep increasing for the foreseeable future.
Already today, there is more demand for software developers than there is supply, and this is reflected in salaries for professional programming jobs.
Will this remain the case in the future? This is not a foregone conclusion. In the short term, it is likely that demand for programming jobs will increase. It is also likely that this demand will increase at a faster pace than the number of new programmers joining the job market.
But looking a bit further ahead, this trend may very well reach a stable point. As the numbers of people learning to code keeps accelerating, and methods of developing software become more efficient, reducing the number of programmer-hours required to complete a programming project, it is very possible that we will not have a significant lack of programmers in the medium to long term.
If you want your children to learn how to code so that in 10-15 years' time they can get a very well paid job, you may be disappointed.
Verdict: Partially true, but not a good enough reason for children to learn to code.
Artificial Intelligence Will Make Coders Redundant
Let's consider both options:
- AI will take over all programming jobs,
- AI will not take over all programming jobs.
If "AI will take over all programming jobs" is true, then so is "AI will take over all medical/legal/journalism/management/finance jobs". I could have made the list much longer!
I'm not dismissing the concern, but simply stating that this is relevant for all the jobs we have and know today. If we believe that AI will take over all our jobs, should our children learn anything at all?
I wrote a previous blog on this topic which compares different types of jobs, and which ones are likely to be replaced by AI first. Spoiler alert: coding won't be one of the first to go.
The alternate view is that the future will not be quite what the science fiction books and films tell us it will be. AI is already playing an important support role in many jobs and professions today, and it is very possible that its role will remain largely as a support to humans rather than a replacement.
Jobs will clearly change as some activities that are currently done by humans will be automated by AI, but this is likely to free up humans to focus on higher-level tasks. And it's a safe bet that coding will be required in many of these higher-level activities.
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Are More Important Than Learning to Code
What skill will our children need most once they join the adult world: critical thinking and problem solving skills are certainly among the top ones, if not the top.
And this is where coding comes in. There are few subjects that are as suited to help students learn these skills as coding. Every task in programming is an exercise in understanding a problem that needs solving, breaking it down into logical steps and linking these steps in the right order, deciding which of the coding tools and methods are required at each stage.
In fact, one cannot do coding without applying critical thinking and problem solving skills. So every minute a student spends coding is a minute during which they are training and improving these key skills.
I have heard Claim 3 made many times, and in all instances it is made by people who have no or little understanding of coding. Some think that coding is a subject in which all you need to do is mechanically follow a recipe, or a set of rules, to achieve a certain outcome. But that couldn't be further from the truth.
If you want children to learn critical thinking and problem solving, one of the best ways to do so is through coding.
Verdict: Anyone who makes this claim does not understand what coding is.
My Children Will Become [Insert Profession Here]—They Won't Need Coding
A couple of decades or more ago, people who wrote computer code were either professional programmers or scientists in certain fields such as Physics, Engineering and Astronomy. Today, there is a much broader group of people who would consider themselves as programmers.
Most people who work in finance are proficient programmers, or are in the process of learning to code. More scientific fields are relying on coding skills to simulate processes and analyse increasing amounts of data. Professionals working in fields as diverse as engineering, marketing, data analytics, biology and many more require some coding knowledge in order to effectively deal with their daily tasks.
We are also seeing coding making its way into other fields that are perhaps further removed from the 'traditional' scientific fields. Journalists have been using code to extract information from large amounts of reports, medical scientists are using code to better understand risk factors in diseases from large amounts of data and to make better diagnoses, lawyers are writing programs to analyse large amounts of cases and look for answers that can help them with present cases. The list goes on.
As a society, we are collecting more data on a daily basis about every aspect of our lives and our society. This means that every job will become more effective and efficient from an understanding of the data being collected. This is achieved through coding. The trend is clear.
There is a very strong possibility that coding skills will be a required skill for most jobs in the future, in the same way that language skills and arithmetic skills are today. This doesn't mean that people will be coding full time, as software developers do, but they will need to rely on some coding skills among other skills required for their profession.
Verdict: False for most (if not all) professions of the future.
Let me finish off with a very pragmatic view. I don't have a crystal ball to predict the future, and neither does anyone else.
It is very possible that coding will become a key skill that will enable access to a large number of professions by the time our children are ready to graduate to adult life.
Or it may not.
If coding does not become a must-have skill in the future, then those students who had learned it will have learnt a subject that won't help them much. I don't believe this is the scenario that will play out, but even if it does, there would have been little harm done.
If however coding does become an essential skill, as many predict, then those who had not learnt coding as a child will have a lot of catching up to do as adults.