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The New Literacy: The Code generation

In Article, Tech4Good by Scott

Related to UN SDG:
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No Moore Law

Last year Editor of the MIT review David Rotman heralded a warning that we are not ready for the end of Moore’s Law “It has fuelled prosperity of the last 50 years. But the end is now in sight.”

He suggests that our ability to miniaturise components thereby doubling transistors on a silicon chip every two years or so is coming to a decades long end, thus slowing down the exponential rise of cheap and more powerful computers.

Computer scientist Charles E. Leiserson and a series of co-authors have suggested that there could be a cure to the end of Moore’s Law, in the form of more efficient algorithms to solve problems of “streamlining computer hardware.”

Speaking with IEEE Spectrum Magazine Charles said “We must get more creative and spend the time needed to performance engineer our software.” There have been some tangible suggestions to solve this issue, but where else could we look to solve the coding problems of the future, but in educating generations to come?

One example of innovation by the new generation can be seen by a science student from the University of Sydney. The 21 year old Pablo Bonilla Ataides tweaked quantum computing code, resulting in a doubling of capacity to correct errors in quantum machines, causing quite the international stir.

We can see further positive signs for the future in seven year old Kautilya Katariya, recognised in the Guinness Book of World records as the youngest child to receive an AI certification from IBM when only six years old. Apparently he has a penchant for machine learning and AI building.

The UK’s Institute of Coding received £20m to implement their initiatives, this definitely suggest that the government has a positive position on investing in computer programming education. I contacted the ‘National consortium of educators, employers and outreach organisations’ about their plans for the funding.

Rachid Hourizi, the Director of the Institute of Coding said “This funding has been used to increase teaching capacity for digital skills within the UK’s higher education sector and has helped to refocus Higher Education Institutions to the needs of industry and the tech sector.”

He went on to say that “Through this innovative cross-sector and cross-region collaboration, the IoC is producing a larger, more diverse, and better-skilled pipeline of talent. This is helping to address the skills gap and is supporting the pandemic recovery by helping people back into employment.”

The importance of addressing any issues within the ‘UK’s digital skills gap’ has long been a professed priority of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. But what if we go even further down the educational system. What future advantages could we see from a grassroots revolution in computer programming?

Enough Pi for Everyone

The Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK-based global educational charity is addressing this very important potential. They strive to improve availability and opportunity, working to put “the power of computing and digital making into the hands of people all over the world.”

I spoke with The Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Director of clubs Zoë Kinstone about CodeClub and CoderDojo – both clubs working with a global community of volunteers, educators, and partners, running free coding clubs for 9 to 13-year-olds and 7 to 17-year-olds respectively.

There’s been such a shift back towards making, not just being a user of technology.Zoë Kinstone, Director, The Raspberry Pi Foundation

They both began life as separate organisations looking to support young people to get excited about learning to code. After joining the Foundation they now represent one of the largest, sustained global efforts to help young people learn computing programming across the globe.

Zoë Kinstone explained that these programs are not just for the kids, but the accompanying adults as well “They might be expert coders but they might also not be, and that’s ok and they can be learning alongside the young people, because the ethos of our clubs programs is that we’re learning by doing we’re learning as we go.”

The approach of these clubs is to let the imagination go wild, take back control of technology and maybe learn a little too. Zoë told us that the idea is to be “evolving the world and to embellish cool stuff through that process, and I think there’s been such a shift back towards making, not just being a user of technology.”

The Future of Code Literacy

This approach of taking back control over the influence of technology was echoed when I spoke with Tufts University Professor Marina Umaschi Bers who leads the team behind ScratchJr an introductory programming language that enables young children ages 5-7 to create their own interactive stories and games, used in over 190 countries worldwide.

“If you think of coding as the new literacy, in the future everyone will need to understand what an algorithm is. They might not grow to be software developers or engineers but they will need to understand for example how Facebook or the news gives some information to you and something else to your friends.”

The chair at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development Marina Bers went on to assert the importance of focusing on code linguistics at an early age “There are a lot of examples in today’s political climate of how algorithms can be biased and how they can discriminate. I think it’s really important as a new literacy, everyone will need to understand what it means, to understand abstract logical sequential thought. And having the tools for problem solving.”

To estimate what potential coders of tomorrow can fulfil or what that future landscape will even look like is a difficult prospect to ascertain, as Zoë Kinstone of The Raspberry Pi Foundation suggests. When the seven year olds of today start to apply for work “The jobs that they are getting don’t even exist yet. Who are we to define that, who are we to tell them what is and isn’t possible for them.”

Breaking Stereotypes

Using the US as an example, a recent study by Pew Research on the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) workforce stated that 48 percent of women report discrimination in the recruitment and hiring process.

66 percent of women report having no clear path to a career in their current companies, Black and Hispanic women majoring in engineering or computer science are less likely to be hired into a tech role compared to their white counterparts, and around 39 percent of women see the primary reason for not being offered a promotion as gender bias.

Professor Marina Bers suggests that one way to facilitate a potential change in the landscape is at the root, shifting and eradicating stereotypes and bias. The professor states it’s vital we start this technical education earlier than high school (secondary or middle school).

“It’s just too late. What research shows is that at least in countries like the US, female minorities will not go into those industries so late in life, because there are already built stereotypes ‘I’m not good at maths – I’m good at this I’m not good at that.

“And that’s not true, so the earlier you expose them the more of an emotional connection they will make with the subjects. They will realise they are as good as someone else. Because when they are four and five they don’t have those stereotypes yet.”

This concept seems to be having an effect already in many initiatives, speaking with Zoë Kinstone I asked her about the gender participation across the clubs “Anecdotally based on the clubs that I’ve seen and within in these programs, then it does seem there is a shift towards more girls being involved.

“There are lots of programs that are focused on girls and we don’t do that, we’re open to anybody of any gender. There are definitely stereotypes and therefore potential barriers in terms of people aspiring to certain careers. In terms of the club environment we’re just open to everybody and we support everybody.”

When asked about gender participation in ScratchJr Professor Bers reiterated the inclusive trend. “We do not see a divide, because when we created ScratchJr our model was that we wanted an expressive tool, we were using reading and writing as examples, we were using arts and crafts as examples, all creative activities.

“So when you provide tools for expression and that’s what scratchjr is, we do not see the difference between boys and girls they all want to express themselves.”

The Playground of Inclusivity

During the pandemic we saw communities across the globe devastated by poverty and hardship. Organisations like The Raspberry Pi Foundation helped to support communities to get much needed access to computers with a program called Learn From Home.

This program helps very young children without access or very limited access to computers, so as to get the home schooling they need during this time of lockdown and continue to encourage the young minds of the future. “There’s been a huge demand for that, and we’re just looking into how that’s going to evolve going forward.”

To guess what the coding world is going to be like or to predict what the budding coders will create is exciting, but those decisions and motivations are beyond our control. The potential is as incredible as they are willing to make it. Organisations like The Raspberry Pi Foundation and software like Scratchjr go a very long way to building a more inclusive playground for this future, and who knows old Moore’s Law may meet its match.

Professor Marina Umaschi Bers says it best that language and understanding can work wonders. “Language is our tool for comprehension but also for making our own, we make our world through social interaction using language. The same is true with computer language and the shape of those languages will change and there is more to come.”

About the Author


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Scott is an Independent Technology Analyst, Content Writer and Connector of interesting people. Scott is a technologist at heart, with a history of technology innovation and marketing leadership roles. As the founder of this website and several other businesses, he is passionate about helping technology companies communicate their relevance and awesomeness in a way that engages and excites everybody. Get in touch with Scott here or connect with him on LinkedIn. Learn Scott's tips for content marketing, download his free template here..