September has arrived, heralding the start of a new school year for kids (and appreciative sighs of relief from their parents). This time next year will also herald the controversial introduction of a new national curriculum for primary schools, which for the first time will include compulsory computer programming for 5 to 11-year-olds .
This announcement has received mixed reviews from parents and teachers, but I fail to see their point of view. What if our ancestors had shown similar reluctance 150 years ago? Being able to read and write had been the preserve of the upper echelons of society and not for the working man (and definitely not the working woman). But the success of the industrial revolution rested heavily on the ability to mobilise a literate population, leading to huge advances in innovation, modernisation, development and economic growth throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries.
Until now, kids in our schools have been taught how to use word-processing tools, make posters and access the web safely. They’ve been taught how to consume digital, but not how to harness digital to innovate and create.
We talk so much about the digital revolution and, with the help of social media, everyone can be a food blogger, travel writer or tech critic these days. But it’s easy to forget that what drives this is code – it’s the computers and the software that are really changing the world around us. And it’s the men and (to a regrettably far lesser extent) women coders who are leading this digital revolution.
And we simply don’t have enough developers. There isn’t sufficient investment (time, money or education) in any country, be that the UK, US or China, to educate and train the number of developers needed to continue this drive for change across the globe.
Some countries have taken a radical approach. Estonia, now often referred to as 'E-stonia', took a look at its population of just over a million and wondered how it would flourish in the post-Soviet era. Since the mid-90s it has been ploughing huge levels of investment into tech and now has one of the most digitally literate populations in the world and a highly digitised education system. A disproportionately large number of people work in tech industries and indeed Skype was originally developed by a team of Estonians before being sold to Microsoft.
We rely heavily on technology for our everyday lives, yet hardly any of us know how to read and write code. It's important for kids now, starting school at five years old, to learn this 21st-century skill in order to succeed in the 21-century world, whatever profession they end up pursuing.
The economy is undeniably fuelled by technology. What better way to navigate our future than by understanding the language that it’s written in. So let’s prepare our boys AND girls for success and harness their imaginations and curiosity – who knows what it will be possible to achieve?