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Should we teach kids how to make programs instead of how to use them?

For the last two decades, most developed countries have implemented computer literacy education in schools. For students born in the 80s or even the early 90s, this was really important. However, students now no longer need this. They are already computer fluent. They are, as some people say, digital natives. Give them any program and they'll be able to teach themselves to do simple--to-moderate tasks without anyone teaching them in a short while.

Most schools teach students how to first use word processors, presentation programs, and spreadsheets. This is no longer needed for two reasons: 1) students are computer fluent, and 2) programs are getting more user friendly every day. Students don't need to be taught to use the programs they normally use. They should, however, be taught how to use the programs they will later need in life like spreadsheets and databases.
Instead, I think they should be taught programming. Although many schools around the school already teach programming, they teach it usually in highschool or junior high; if they teach it in elementary school, they usually teach a simplified "kids" language which uses drag-and-drop blocks. I think students should start learning programming languages like visual basic and Java in 5th or 6th grade. The first country that does this will have a huge IT revolution.
Kids are creative. Teaching them programming will be giving them the ability to direct this creativity and keep it.

So what do you think?


Written by a 16 year old.

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    Oct 13 2011: One of the pivotal experiences in my own education was being exposed to text-based computer programming at the age of nine, when I was in fourth grade. My elementary school had a couple of very forward-thinking teachers who persuaded the school to purchase two personal computers (in 1979!) which could be programmed in line-numbered BASIC. A few years later my parents bought me one of my own, and eventually I upgraded to an Apple II computer.

    This extracurricular activity-turned-hobby was instrumental in teaching me practical mathematics, diagnostic problem-solving, self-discipline in maintaining backup records, fine attention to detail, and other really useful skills/habits. It made math come alive for me (and still does!).

    Your proposal is something I've thought of many times as an educator, wondering how well it would be received at the elementary school level. One potential barrier is that creating your own programs from scratch necessarily means you must begin with extremely simple (read: boring) programs, which pale in comparison to commercial software that kids are now accustomed to. Back in 1979, it was all new to us, and so even a simple "Hello World" program was exciting!

    To make it really work, I think you'd need a programming language that provides a lot of power to do nifty things without a steep learning curve, yet is not so high-level that it shields the student from understanding the underlying computing principles. Python is one language that comes to mind . . .
    • Oct 13 2011: Although it will be nice and preferable to teach kids things they enjoy a lot, this is not really necessary from the beginning. They just need to not hate it. I'm not a programmer so I don't really know how the curriculum can go. Considering your thought, they might start learning a programming language like Python, and then later on they start learning more complex languages. Once they like programming in itself, they'll start getting excited for learning more complex languages. Eventually they'll have a wide knowledge of different languages.

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