You’ve probably heard the claim that coding, or computer programming, is as crucial a skill in the 21st century as reading and math were in the previous century. I’ll go one step further: Teaching a young person to code could be the single most life-changing skill you can give them. And it’s not just a career-enhancer. Coding is about problem-solving, it’s about creativity, and more importantly, it’s about empowerment.
Empowerment over computers, the devices that maintain our schedules, enable our communications, run our utilities, and improve our daily lives.
But learning to code is also personally empowering. The very first time a child writes a program and makes a computer do something, there’s an immediate sense of “I can do this!” And it transforms more than just a student’s attitude toward computers. Being able to solve a problem by planning, executing, testing, and improving a computer program carries over to other areas of life, as well. What parts of our lives wouldn’t be made better with thoughtful planning, doing, evaluating, and adjusting?
The importance of starting early
As a computer science professor, I get to see the transformation firsthand, at an accelerated pace—from disoriented freshmen to confident, competent graduates who get high-paying jobs in industry, government, military, and beyond, in the span of just a few years.
But it can start much earlier, and indeed, these days it must. A 2012 Science Educationstudy of career interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields found that by ninth grade, over 80% of girls had self-selected out of STEM careers, and by the time they graduated high school, only 12.7% of females were interested in pursuing a STEM field. Boys fared better, but less than 40% of males stated an interest in a STEM career at both ninth and 12th grades.