In 2012, the mayor of New York City famously announced that, for his New Year’s resolution, he would learn how to code. He also inadvertently sparked a populist movement. Within a year, industry leaders like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey had rallied around Code.org, a movement to get school children to learn about programming. This past December, over 20 million students worldwide participated in Code.org’s Hour of Code 2013, an event designed to promote computer science education. The movement to promote computer science education, while attracting its share of valid criticisms, has been wildly successful — and it’s alive and well here in Nova Scotia.
Gordie Noye is a computer science professor who now works as a developer at GoInstant. In his spare time, he’s produced a package to teach students in Grade 10 how to program in Python. He wants young people to have a foundation in computer science before they reach junior and senior year. Harry Fairbanks spent several years teaching in Japan, and now works as a programmer at Master Merchant Systems. He envisions after school programs across the province, pairing students with a network of skilled IT workers, to learn about different topics in ICT on an ongoing basis. Craig Brown is a local business owner, and Derek MacDonald is a university lecturer with a PhD in education. Together, they’ve developed and implemented a weekly lunchtime program for elementary school kids who want to learn about computers and programming. They want to expand their model to middle schools, and replicate it across Nova Scotia. Gavin Uhma, one of the entrepreneurs behind GoInstant, has assembled a group of private-sector developers and startup founders to create an open-source curriculum resource, combining technology and entrepreneurship into a single program. He hopes to see it implemented in post-secondary schools across the country. Melissa Crnić co-founded Ladies Learning Code, a non-profit dedicated to promoting technical skills among women. Recently, the organization has expanded its mandate to include youth, and through its partners at Learning Labs, now runs workshops locally and across Canada. David Alston used to work at Radian6, and now drives innovation at IntroHive. He has made it his mission to see computer programming taught in Atlantic Canadian schools. He’s working on a documentary to raise awareness and support, by shining a light on other regions that have achieved this goal successfully. Digital Nova Scotia, in partnership with the Discovery Centre, has developed a program for youth aged 10-15, to introduce them to a variety of topics like robotics, 3D printing, computer hardware and game development. The Digital Discovery Camp made its successful pilot debut over March Break, and returns to a wider audience as a summer camp this July and August. As for me? I’m a former high school teacher who now runs an IT consulting and development company. Last month, I wrote a curriculum designed to help high school and post-secondary students learn relevant computer programming skills. I’d like nothing more than to see technology education win a place among the core subjects taught in our schools. I’d settle for an interim solution, though. Note: I’m sure this is an incomplete list. If you know of someone working to promote technology education to youth, get in touch!
Why are so many folks in the private sector so interested in promoting technology education – and specifically programming – for youth in their communities? The answer isn’t immediately apparent, and varies from person to person. Some have children, and want to give them a head start. Others want to close the present skills gap. Looking to the future, some recognize the economic imperative to transition to STEM industries, in order to secure our region’s prosperity. Still others believe that programming helps teach abstract thinking, logical reasoning and a host of other cognitive skills at much younger ages.
I believe the goal of education is to provide future generations with the means to create their own opportunities, by equipping them with three assets: social capital, cultural capital and intellectual capital. Social capital includes relationship and communication skills, as well as an understanding of our society’s structures, institutions and networks. Cultural capital describes attitudes, values, and ways of thinking that are linked to success and prosperity. Finally, intellectual capital (or human capital) describes the stock competencies, skills, knowledge and literacies that we all need to produce valuable work. Together, these assets help students identify, create and capitalize on opportunity, by discovering a passion or talent, starting a business, or finding a job locally or abroad. We need to give students as much capital as we can.
The more competencies, skills and literacies students can acquire, the more opportunities they can identify, create and exploit. Nowadays, digital literacy is a fundamental part of creating opportunity, just like the ability to read, write or do math. In this century, to be “literate” means finding and evaluating information, assessing tools and using them to solve problems, thinking systematically about existing solutions, and building new ones. Technology education is a critical part of all these processes. By promoting technology education, all of us are working toward the same goal. We’re building support structures, and giving students tools to help them prosper. We’re doing this because our economy depends on it, our region depends on it, and our businesses depend on it. “Learning to code”, inasmuch as it promotes digital literacy, unlocks opportunities for all comers. I hope you’ll join us on the scaffolding, and consider becoming an advocate yourself.
Ari Najarian wrote his first computer game in Grade 8, and has been fascinated by technology ever since. Before founding Torusoft, Ari sought to share his passion for technology in the classroom, working as a high school I.T. teacher in New Brunswick. As co-founder of Torusoft, he oversees web and app development projects, striving to create the best possible user experiences. He also develops and delivers Torusoft’s training programs for Macs, iPhones and iPads in the workplace, to help empower clients with the same tools that empower him. He can be reached on Twitter at @stickbyatlas.