You can’t get far without a computer these days, especially when it comes to finding a job. Basic computer skills are a must, but knowledge of computer programming has become even more in demand — even at a young age.
TechLabs, an educational programme offering after-school courses and summer camps to teach kids to code in Switzerland, explains why it’s important for kids to learn computer programming — and not just to succeed in the workplace, but to succeed in life.
State of computer skills in Europe
Though digitisation seems to have taken hold in Europe, a surprising number of people still lack the necessary skills to thrive in such an environment. According to a report from the European Commission, nine out of 10 jobs will require digital skills in the future, but Europeans are not evolving as fast: a surprising 44 percent do not have basic digital skills.
Switzerland is often touted as one of the more advanced countries in terms of digitisation, but the perception may be a little skewed. A 2015 study by ECDL Switzerland showed that although participants self-assessed as proficient in areas such as word processing software, internet, email and file management, most scored less than 50 percent in a practical test. Programming skills are even less developed, though the field is growing in popularity as a choice of university study.
Preparing for ICT jobs in Switzerland
Switzerland is facing a dire shortage of skills in the digital sector. The ICT workforce is growing at twice the rate of the country’s economy, says trade organisation ICTswitzerland, but Switzerland will still need to fill 25,000 ICT positions with specialists that don’t yet exist in the country by 2024.
There is currently a rush to get current business professionals up to speed, with code academies for adults offering accelerated programmes in computer programming, but it may not be moving fast enough. And even though there are more graduates in the ICT field, most positions that are not strictly ICT-focused still need at least some knowledge of computer programming.
The best way to ensure that these positions can be filled by skilled workers is to start young. Introducing coding to kids at a young age ensures that they are prepared to enter the workforce, even if they are not strictly in an ICT-related field — though it is expected that sooner or later, every field will be related to ICT.
Develop computational thinking skills
Though much of the hype around teaching kids to code at younger ages has revolved around their future careers, learning computer programming may actually have cognitive benefits. Dr Marina Umaschi Bers, a child development and computer science researcher and professor, has demonstrated in her studies that children are “better at sequencing picture stories” after learning to program robots with a simple block programming language that is executed with actual blocks.
Children who learn to code may better develop these computational skills, which involves the recognition of patterns as well as identifying and solving problems, at a younger age. This can lead to a heightened ability to problem-solve, which, in turn, can help improve other areas of education.
Foster creativity in children
Computer programming is no longer characterised by hours spent hunched over a desk in a darkened room lit only by a computer screen flashing code. It’s become a place of creativity and group thinking, with problems presented and eager students ready to come up with ways to solve them together.
But it’s not only the thrill of solving problems — games, apps and websites have become more interactive and more fun, and children as young as two are using tablets and smartphones to play games and watch videos. Some educators, such as Harvard’s Karen Brennan, have developed game-like interfaces that, instead of supplying just a game, are actually teaching kids to code. Because these are developed for young kids and have the all-important entertainment factor, kids are encouraged to get creative.
Enrolling in a Swiss code academy for kids
Ever since the digital skills shortage became apparent, the number of adult coding academies in Zurich, Geneva and Basel has risen. However, the attention has also been on children: Swiss politicians have agreed that children must be taught to code alongside standard subjects such as reading and mathematics. Some schools in Switzerland have already begun introducing elementary-level computer programming courses, but parents may choose to enrol their children in afterschool programmes that go beyond basic curricula — there are now children’s coding courses in Zurich, Geneva and Basel, and more are opening almost every day.
At this stage, there are only benefits to learning computer programming — even, and perhaps especially, in children.