My friend Brad Feld has an interesting article on his blog asking Where has BASIC gone? He’s talking specifically about what programming language to use when teaching children how to program, but what I kept thinking about subsequent to reading his article is why most children don’t need to learn programming.
Note that I’m not saying that interested kids shouldn’t learn to program if they’re so inclined, but taking a “left turn” from what Brad wrote and am talking instead about whether all kids need to learn programming or not?
To position this well and state my biases, we are a 99% media free household and our children don’t have their own TVs, own computers, Gameboys, Sony PSP’s etc. In fact, they don’t even have live electrical plugs in their rooms. Just kidding on that last bit!
I’ve often been surprised by what I hear from people both in the tech industry and the general public who seem to believe that all children should learn how to program and that computers should be an integral part of the classroom starting with first grade, if not kindergarten. No surprise, I disagree with that quite strongly!
Let me explain by starting with an analogy…
We all agree that somewhere along their journey children should learn how to drive cars, right? Probably not when they’re eight, but in their mid-teens, children need to learn basic driver’s ed. But what is drivers education? Safety and basic rules of the road. What they don’t need to learn is how an internal combustion engine works or how to tune the engine settings to get more performance from the vehicle.
When we get to computers, however, many parents and educators believe that all children should learn how to program, which is the digital equivalent of learning how the engine works in a car. Where are the “safe computing” courses, the “how to avoid creeps on the Internet” classes, the “rules of the digital road” workshops where children learn how to work with computers, how to run a virus check or install a new piece of software?
My point is that the zeal to learn programming is misguided, just as the desire to wire up all classrooms onto the Internet is misguided. Go and talk with teachers in K-12 schools and you’ll find that precious few of them have any useful training on computers, on how to properly utilize the Web, and – most importantly – how to appropriately integrate computers into the existing school curriculum. The kids enjoy a new
toy distraction in the classroom, but does it actually help learning?
What do you think? Do you let your children use computers when they’re young? Do you think that they need to learn how to program the computer so that they’ll be efficient users down the road?