Allan B Beaton 'Social Media Scientist'

#DigitalSkills Is Coding the New Foreign Language?

digital natives

There has recently been a lot of attention given to the importance of giving the next generation skills that are relevant to the lives they are likely to lead. This trend caught my attention towards the end of last year when the activity surrounding the #DigitalSkills hashtag started to spike.

‘Digital Natives’

Young people who were born after 1998 should be considered ‘digital natives’. If you’ve seen a young child spend 10 minutes with an iPad you’ll understand what I’m talking about. They just ‘get it’.

To put this discussion in context, let’s just consider how far things have come over the last few years. Five years ago the ‘social web’ was still in its infancy. Since then, the platforms, tools and the way that we use social media has changed beyond all recognition. Five years ago Apple hadn’t even released the original iPad. Since then they have released at least four new models and tablets have become commonplace in homes across the world.

Imagine how much technology is going to progress over the next 30 years! Who knows what children who are born now will experience in their lifetimes?

Young people have entrepreneurial and educational opportunities that the previous generation (my generation) never had. So why are we equipping them purely with the skills WE needed? The job market is going to be completely different for these guys.


The New Foreign Language

The language of computers is code. It’s not French, Spanish or German. The ‘new’ language to be fluent in is digital, and the demand won’t be declining anytime soon! Just look at tech start-up HootSuite. Those guys are doing a great job and are hiring like crazy. They can’t get their hands on new talent fast enough!

‘Digital natives’ have always been surrounded by technology. They will never remember a time when iPads weren’t a standard household object. They are ideally placed to pick up the skills they need to succeed in a digitally focused world.

We just need to give them the right tools and education.


It’s Already Happening…

Thankfully, I’m not alone in thinking this. There are already lots of new initiatives designed to achieve exactly what I’m talking about.

For example: the coding clubs network Code Club is currently launching a training programme for UK school teachers. This initiative is designed to give teachers the skills they need to teach basic coding to their pupils. It’s also got £120,000 of funding from…you guessed it…Google.

Understandably, App developers have also been quick to recognise the need to give children the skills they need. There are already whole programming languages designed to teach kids the basics and a whole range of gamified apps to help them make sense of it all (my favourite is Move the Turtle).


 Wider Benefits

Now, I’m not saying we should be preparing every child to be a programmer. Clearly, it’s not for everyone. However, that’s not grounds for excluding it from mainstream education. How many of us learnt French or German at school and never used it?

Just like learning these other foreign languages, learning coding and programming skills from a young age can help children to develop in other, in-direct ways.

‘Even if you don’t want to be a developer, learning computational thinking is important because it’s so helpful for learning to solve problems and logical thinking. We’ve had anecdotal evidence from teachers that the children who take part in Code Club are less afraid of taking risks and their confidence grows in all areas of their learning, but especially science.’

Clare Sutcliffe, founder of Code Club

I get so excited when I think about what the next generation will achieve. Zuckerberg didn’t have an iPad when he was four. I’m also pretty sure no one ever ‘taught’ him to code websites. Despite this, he was able to create Facebook.

Imagine what  the next generation of Zuckerbergs will create if we give them the right tools!

Want to join the #digitalskills debate?

Allan is a 'social media scientist'. He is passionate about finding new ways to help people connect and engage. He's a speaker, trainer and consultant as well as acting as a UK ambassador for HootSuite. You can find Allan on Twitter, Facebook and as well as all the other usual social networks.
  1. avatar
    Angus Findlay Reply
    Great article Allan. So true and good timing. We've been offering fully funded Scratch, Game Salad, Greenfoot and Lego Mindstorm workshops to schools here and in surrounding counties for a year now. Just hard to get the teachers and schools to wake up to all of it. They nearly see it as a threat or bring us in as an end of term treat! The quicker schools embrass it the better or the UK will be left behind. Keep shouting about it to wake up the dinosaurs.
  2. avatar
    Allan Blair Beaton Reply
    Thanks Angus. Schools always have the best intentions, but it's harder for them to actually introduce new methodologies into the classroom, so it's always good to give the kids a sneak peak!
  3. avatar
    Liam Reply
    This is something I've been discussing with my wife for a while. We feel it's vital that today's kids learn how to write and read code if they are to be good employees or entrepreneurs of the future. We're starting by introducing our nippers to a lot of problem solving and puzzle games. Once they get a bit older we can start to introduce things like "Move the Turtle". And so on... It's a long road, but it'll be worth it. Even if they never end up writing code on a regular basis, it'll give them excellent planning and organisational skills and allow them to understand the 'digital world' that will (probably) surround them.
    • avatar
      Allan Blair Beaton Reply
      Thanks Liam, I agree. It's a long road, but you have to start somewhere right?

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