Anka Mulder

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Every child should learn how to code

A few weeks ago one of our lecturers, Felienne Hermans, started a MOOC on programming for children age 8 and older. The MOOC is based on Scratch. It is TU Delft’s first MOOC in Dutch and also the first for this age group. 2.500 Dutch children have enrolled, even though it is the end of their school year and the start of their holidays!

Screenshot of one of the MOOC videos

Screenshot of a video of Felienne

Our MOOC is not not the only initiative to help children to learn how to code.  Apple, for example, offers Swift Playgrounds online, Google teaches children to programme with ‘Bloks’ and there any many other examples. That makes sense, because programming is an important skill for the future. “Jong geleerd, oud gedaan” (something learned at an early age will be easy when one is older), as the Dutch proverb goes.

President Barack Obama, Apple CEO Tim Cook and former European Commisioner Nellie Kroes all said that they believe children have to learn how to programme. Mitch Resnick agrees and in his Ted Talk in 2012 he explains why. Children nowadays are very experienced in interacting with, but less so in expressing themselves with new technologies. It is almost as if they can read, but not write with new technologies.

There are other reasons why knowing how to code is important. Programming is a perfect exercise in logical thinking and problem solving. It also enables you to stay in control of the digital world around you, for example of your privacy. And there are economic reasons. The OECD says that in 2020 digital skills are needed in almost every profession. The World Economic Forum stated that 10 years from now 90% of the world population will be connected to the internet. Our society is rapidly becoming more digitalised. We do our tax forms online, download music and movies, book a table in a restaurant online, learn new things via MOOCs, we chat and Skype. In short, already today digitisation and the Internet have a major impact on our daily lives and that impact will increase exponentially in the future with ‘the internet of things’. Just think of the effect the mobile phone and smart phone have had in the last 10 years. That means that there is a bright future for programmers or anyone who knows how to do it.

Delft

Interestingly, coding is not a standard part of the programme of our own students at TU Delft. So many of our TU Delft students may leave university without knowing how to programme. The same is true for students at many other universities, I am sure. I think we should change that and make programming part of the curriculum of every student, certainly at TU Delft. Just like mathematics and physics, programming is a common language for every engineer, a skill they should all have.

Who knows, 10 years from now all these 8+ year old MOOC kids Felienne taught will enter TU Delft. Wouldn’t it be great if our current students can match their programming skills?

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