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Should all kids learn to code?

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  February 19, 2014 05:01 AM

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It's a question I've been thinking about recently: should all kids learn to code?

I don't mean secret codes like spies use (although I remember having lots of fun making up codes when I was little). I mean source code, the instructions we give computers. It's the language of computer programming. 

That's what it is, really: a language. A lot of people think we should be teaching it along with Spanish or Chinese. Many people think it should be available to everyone, perhaps even mandatory.

Why? Well, because computers are so much a part of our lives these days. The ability to write programs--or, at least, really understand how programming works--could be the difference between controlling the world around you or being controlled by it.

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Okay, so maybe that's a bit dramatic. But when so much of what we interact with on a daily 
basis is code-based, speaking that language can't help but fundamentally change how you think about and use the technology. And it could put you at an advantage over others who don't speak the language.

That's the idea behind a book written by Andrey Ostrovsky, one of the residents at Boston Children's, and John Vanden-Heuvel. They put together an "ABC's of the Web" with the idea being to introduce really little kids (and their parents) to the vocabulary and concepts of the Web and coding. (They are looking for more funding to get it started--check out their Kickstarter page). 

It's also the concept behind "An Hour of Code", and Code.org, a campaign to teach more Americans, especially more youth, about computer science. It's a free, fun, online course that gets you started learning about the basics of coding. Here's their video:


I think this is cool. I've done some of the "hour" and plan to do more. It's fascinating. But when I talk to others about doing it, I get some odd looks. The people in my generation say they are too busy, and don't get why they should learn it when there are ample computer geeks available. And youth, well, while they are easier to engage, it doesn't seem to occur to them that they could program computers instead of just using them.

But they can. That's what we as parents and teachers need to understand--and make clear to today's youth. I don't know that all of us need to learn to code, just like not all of us need to learn Spanish or Chinese. But just as knowing Spanish or Chinese can open up the world and create opportunities, so can learning code.

Try the hour. It's actually fun. Do it with your kids; learn together. Show them what's possible. See where it leads.



This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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