We often talk about screentime as being a bad thing for children. There are however some vital computer skills kids need to learn.
Billionaire tech entrepreneur and co-founder of Tesla and PayPal Elon Musk created his first video game at age 12. While that sounds pretty impressive, he’s actually five years behind some kids in Australia.
During the most recent school holidays, 5000 primary school-aged kids across the country (some as young as seven) learned how to code their own games through Code Camp, a school holiday program that teaches children how to code in as little as three days. The program took kids behind the scenes of how computers work and taught them the coding language needed to “talk” with computers—essentially teaching them the language of the future.
Being a mother of three daughters, I am passionate about making sure kids have the necessary skills to tackle the digital world. More and more jobs of the near future will involve digital design skills, with 80 per cent of jobs being in the technology sector. According to the World Economic Forum, 65 per cent of children who started primary school this year will be doing a job that doesn’t yet exist by the time they enter the workforce.
I helped start Code Camp over four years ago as a fun way to engage kids in coding at a young age, allowing them to become digital storytellers. By learning to use code to design characters, build game levels, choose their baddies and create storylines, they are becoming creators of technology rather than mindlessly consuming it.
The benefits of teaching children how to code are undeniable. It provides pathways to future employment, keeps them stimulated and offers a creative outlet. Coding is also a great way to direct screentime towards something productive. Children all across the nation are gaining sought-after entry skills that developers are learning in universities and advanced courses.
With the advancement of technology on hyperdrive, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are set to replace around 10 per cent of jobs over the next decade alone, and experts predict major disruption to numerous careers and jobs for decades to come. We simply cannot ignore that the skill sets needed for our children to be employable are very different than when we were at school or preparing for a transition into the workforce.
We might like to think that tech-driven millennials are a passing trend, but the reality is that they are just the tip of the iceberg of how future generations and our primary school kids of today will conduct work and life when they approach adulthood. Their world will be a very different one in terms of technology—technology development and coding are said to be fundamental evergreen career paths.
Unfortunately, despite technology and coding being a booming industry, the numbers of girls getting into it aren’t where they need to be. This is an area I’m focused on at Code Camp. According to Australia’s New South Wales Education Standards Authority, only 9 per cent of female students studied software and development for their senior high school certificate (HSC) in 2017. Adding to this is the current statistics on women in the Australian tech workforce, who make up just 30 per cent of the numbers. With Australia facing a labour shortage of 18 per cent by 2030, particularly in the IT sector, we really need to change these statistics.
I’m keen to boost the attendance of girls at our camps so that they have the same skills as their male counterparts. The misconception that a girl enjoying coding must be nerdy and unpopular is outdated and we are on a mission to get our boy-girl ratio to an even split.
I believe that if young girls can see it, they can be it, so I’ve focused on employing female teachers who are good role models for the young girls coming through our camps. As such, 60 per cent of our current teaching staff are female.
At the same time, parents of young girls can help by encouraging their daughters to have a go at coding. Encouraging girls to learn coding in a fun and interactive way is the way forward and hopefully, with the support of families and government, we can start to turn these figures around.
The soft skills we need to equip our children with are very different to what our generation needed when we were their age. Coding is where creativity and technology meet. While they might just be learning basic game or app development at Code Camp, these are the bedrock of career paths in this industry. Kids love it and it opens an all-important door for them.