We can’t coddle the coders

Columnist Claudette Sandecki ponders the merits of teaching children to code

The provincial government recently announced its spending $6 million to teach coding to students in grades 6 to 9.

“What is coding”, I wondered, “and how necessary or useful will it be to students?”

I found this explanation from an internet article titled, “Coding in the Classroom. What is Coding and Why Is It Important?”, written by Anthony Cuthbertson and published August 29, 2014 in International Business Times.

“In the simplest of terms,” writes Cuthbertson, “coding is telling a computer what you want it to do, which involves typing in step-by-step commands for the computer to follow.

“Learning to code has been likened to learning a foreign language, or perhaps more specifically a family of foreign languages.

“Examples include C, a ‘low level’ but fast programming language that is good for anything graphically intensive like games; JavaScript, which was specifically designed for dealing with web content; and Perl, a multi-functional language that is often referred to as the ‘Swiss army knife’ of programming.

“Why is coding important?”

Cuthbertson writes, “Code powers our digital world. Every website, smartphone app, computer program, calculator and even microwave relies on code in order to operate. This makes coders the architects and builders of the digital age.

“Over the next 10 years it is estimated that there will be 1.4 million jobs in computer sciences and only around 400,000 graduates qualified to do them.”

“Jobs not directly linked to computer sciences – such as banking, medicine and journalism – will also be affected by the need for at least an understanding of programming and coding.”

I’d add to banking teaching, carpentering, nursing, waitressing and more. Try calling a computer coder to stop a leaky faucet.

“Linda Liukas, co-founder of coding workshop program Rail Girls, believes that coding is “the literacy of the 21st century”.

“Our kids should learn to bend, join, break and combine code in a way it wasn’t designed to. It’s a whole generation of kids that will use code like our generation used words.”

The youngest generation already speaks in code, not words. They sit, elbow to elbow, thumbs tapping out ‘r’ for ‘are’ and ‘u’ for ‘you.’ Few can spell properly, read or write cursive. They print.

Prominent daily newspapers give accounts of intersection congestion “teaming” with pedestrians when they mean “teeming”. (What action would a computer perform in response to a code misspelling of that magnitude?). Or “exasperate” for “exacerbate”; “respectfully” for “respectively”; “detergent” for “deterrent”? Even better, the news account of a B.C. dog saving its family by “altering” them to the presence of a grizzly that had broken into the kitchen.

I would suspect in these codes an occasional number might be vital. Heaven help the computer if the coder must subtract, multiply or divide to produce the final formula.

Even using a calculator, plenty of students can’t figure out what calculation they need to carry out to reach the solution.

I’m told by someone who travels that the U.S. stores have installed cash registers that offer photographs of the denominations – quarters, dimes, or nickels – a cashier must dole out to give change. If the power goes out, cashiers are stuck, unable to count change on their own.

Coding may become important for future employment, but a universal demand will exist for self motivated employees able to reason, arrive at work on time, and do a day’s work for a day’s pay.

Let’s see them devise a code for that!