Technology, not just coding

Of late, coding has become an integral curricular subject in schools across the world. It is considered synonymous with technology by an overwhelming majority of school educators, leaders, administrators, as well as parents. Just as school educators cannot be expected to truly understand technology; technologists, and K-12 service providers, cannot be expected to truly understand ‘educationally sound’ curricular content and experiences. This is why the blurred line between technology and coding needs to be rectified immediately.

Technology in school curricula has been defined too narrowly as ICT. For example, the popular focus on coding in schools, by default, promotes technology being the same as artificial intelligence/machine learning/big data, distributed ledger technologies (for example, block chain), augmented/virtual reality, IoT, cognitive cloud computing and3D printing, etc. Schools are flooded with offers from companies giving coding experiences to gain 'technology experiences'.

While ICTs are becoming the backbone, or significant enabler of technological impact across all 'sciences', curricular imperatives call for children to be exposed to science and technology in a comprehensively experiential and aspirational level, before they can start addressing technological solutions. ICTs are only a part of the solution.

While children might benefit from learning to code, it is important to understand what schools are doing right and what they are doing wrong.

Teaching coding at schools is beneficial for children because:

  1. Coding is an extremely relevant skill for the future. Coding will determine the way we interact with ICT devices (software and hardware) and the knowledge of coding is not only helpful for those with careers in the ICT sector, but it also helps to make strategic decisions in all kinds of organisations.
  2. It is a powerful means of training children to explore and visualise complex situations. It allows them to see the big picture, different components and the interactions between the components. Hence, it strengthens logical thinking. So, it’s not coding that is the key lesson, it’s the ecosystem of coding.
  3. It is the cheapest way to create prototypes of many ideas and learn their value. Once again, it’s not coding that’s important (it’s the idea being prototyped).
  4. It allows students to conduct hypothesis testing without a physical set up.
  5. Pedagogically, coding is amenable to remote teaching. This dramatically improves the chances of reaching the last school, regardless of its geography. This also implies that coding can be taught at a lower cost, compared to other subjects.
  6. It provides students with self-diagnostics and precise and actionable feedback. This is a very valuable experience in self-learning.

Here are some of the inappropriate aspects in which coding is currently being taught to children:

  1. Teaching coding as 'technology' skews the meaning of technology. It disconnects technology from science. At the school level, it is important to keep the symbiotic relationship between science and technology as interactive and thriving.
  2. Coding must not be taught until secondary just because it offers good career opportunities by itself. Effective coding experiences in a programming language must be offered from Grade XI onwards.
  3. Until Grade X, coding experiences should focus more on learning the coding concepts, such as statements, objects, variables, arrays, conditions, loops and functions, as opposed to focusing on an application domain.
  4. There are too many programming languages and the list is only getting longer. For example, there are multiple block chain platforms, 3D graphics has its own ‘language’ and so does 3D printing. Learning to code in any of these, or a couple of them, cannot be a significant goal; yet, getting introduced to a few languages is important.
  5. With each coder/developer there are additional roles, such as domain experts who help build the software, domain professionals (doctors, for example), project managers, technical copywriters, designers, user trainers, relationship executives and more. Children must be introduced to the entire array of careers/experiences rather than focusing solely on one aspect, programming.
  6. Promoting coding experiences and skills in order to develop mathematical and logical thinking is not tenable. The global crisis in math education can only be addressed through new and better-quality math education. Coding should not be introduced at the cost of the quality of core academics.
  7. The current coding curriculum is not sound for middle and secondary schools as it is not correctly aligned with the goals of these school years.
  8. Coding experiences result in an increase in the gulf between parents and children in understanding the fundamental nature of ICT. Hence, the coding curriculum must involve the parents (it will be helpful for the children).

Excerpted from the book ‘You, The Unsung Hero’ by G S Madhav Rao, Sandeep Srivastava, Saloni Srivastava