Benefits and impacts of early exposure to coding

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In a world where technology is transforming the way we live and work, coding has become a definitive skill that boosts the efficiency and effectiveness of several domains. From enhancing problem-solving abilities to fostering creativity, the benefits of coding education are far-reaching - which is one of the reasons developed countries emphasise coding education for everyone. Given the trend of leveraging processes and technology to create impacts, the recent initiative from Bangladesh's education ministry to incorporate coding into mainstream education for students as young as third graders is definitely a welcome change.

Code-literacy and its benefits: While not everyone may need to become proficient in coding, a baseline level of code literacy is beneficial to most. Firstly, coding necessitates the deconstruction of complex problems into smaller, more manageable elements, followed by devising algorithms to solve them. This approach of thinking improves problem-solving abilities and can be applied to various other arenas, from project planning to resolving personal problems. Secondly, coding is a creative process that entails designing and constructing from scratch which boosts one's ability to employ analytical abilities to design customised solutions. Again, code literacy facilitates the understanding of how technology functions, how it is developed, and the way it influences end-users. This comprehension enables individuals to make informed decisions regarding the technology they use and evaluate its potential ramifications.

Impacts of teaching coding to children: Coding is not essentially a skill reserved for adults -- it empowers children to better comprehend and engage with technology. If introduced to this skill in an age-appropriate manner, primary and middle schoolers can gain an overview of coding concepts/tools and apply them practically.

Rayeed Farzad Karim, a young prodigy in his fifth year at Maple Leaf International School, has been honing the basics of coding for the past two years. Noticing his genuine passion, his mother Faiza Rahlaa took it upon herself to help him explore this arena. Amidst the Covid-induced lockdown in 2021, she appointed a tutor for Rayeed to nurture his burgeoning interests. "During that time, Rayeed often asked me questions about how softwares work exactly the way humans want it to. Not having an IT background, I could not answer his unending questions. I appointed a tutor for him so his curiosity is met and he benefits from the guidance of a qualified instructor." Faiza Rahlaa states. "His tutor, SM Raiyan Reza has been there from the beginning and has been carefully tailoring the lesson plans to suit Rayeed's interests."

Raiyan Reza, a computer science student at Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology, was positively surprised at first when he recognised Rayeed's learning capacity. "The very first day, he began inquiring about how applications are built. I thought the best approach would be to provide him with a general overview, punctuated by easy-to-follow examples where I show him practical demonstrations of codes in action. The key is to invoke their desire to learn," recounts Raiyan Reza.

After a few introductory sessions, Rayeed started using Scratch, which is a block-based visual programming language specifically aimed at children. "I set a comfortable pace of learning, ensuring that the contents were not overwhelming for Rayeed. I frequently assign him homework to build games by himself. He enjoys these tasks since he has the autonomy of making the game characters. Within four-five months, he achieved a remarkable proficiency at this," Raiyan Reza proclaimed.

In this manner, if coding is introduced to children in an age-appropriate manner, they can grow up to become creators and not just consumers of technology. Additionally, owing to their increasing critical thinking abilities, they excel in academic performance. For instance, coding helps young students understand maths and science in a practical way. Coding also helps them improve their communication skills as it often requires collaboration among team members.

Making code education accessible: Incorporating code education into the school curriculum is a crucial way forward which ensures that every student has access to coding education from an early age, regardless of their background. Providing access to resources such as computers, internet connectivity, and online resources/bootcamps is also required to teach children coding. Qualified mentors and coding committees can also provide guidance, support, and lessons to interested students. Furthermore, enabling gender and socio-economic diversity in coding education is critical. Girls and children from lower-income families are often underrepresented in coding education which calls for efforts from relevant stakeholders to bridge this gap and make coding education accessible to all.

Designing an age-appropriate curriculum: To ensure that the curriculum is tailored to the developmental stage/cognitive abilities of children, it is imperative to consider several key strategies. Firstly, conducting a needs assessment will help identify the specific requirements of the target age group. This will aid in formulating a curriculum that is customised to the children's needs, abilities, and interests. Secondly, it is crucial to use language and activities that are age-appropriate to prevent children from feeling overwhelmed. For instance, younger children may need more visual and gamified activities, whereas older children may benefit from text-based coding languages.

Providing scaffolding techniques, such as step-by-step instructions and breaking down complex tasks into smaller and more manageable steps, essentially supports children's understanding of coding concepts. Flexibility is also key to an age-appropriate curriculum so that it is adaptable to the children's learning progress and needs, allowing them to learn at their own pace. Finally, leaving room for feedback mechanisms can help make adjustments and improvements to the curriculum as needed, creating a more effective learning experience for the students.

Teaching children to code has multifarious benefits that extend beyond just the field of computer science. Students who learn to code at a young age develop several skills that are transferable to other areas of life. Recognising these aspects, several ed-tech services and platforms in Bangladesh have taken initiatives to introduce coding to young students, aiding them to build holistic skill sets for the future and equipping them to apply their analytical and problem-solving skills practically anywhere.

The writer is working at the Web team of SELISE Digital Platforms.
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