Tech Companies Pushing Coding, Programming Skills for Kids

As technology becomes integrated in nearly every facet of life, demand is also increasing for computer programmers. From software programming to mobile application development, there is a growing demand for software experts — which means both schools and businesses are pushing to have children introduced to programming earlier.

Many organizations are pushing kids to learn computer coding from the early age so they can become experts after leaving colleges and universities. According to Katie Humphrey of Star Tribune, there is a growing movement nationally, including in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, to teach kids the computer coding.

Schools too rarely offer computer coding training in the classrooms, and technology companies and non-profit organizations are pushing for a strong curriculum while undertaking their own initiatives to teach kids programming through tablet apps, website tutorials and weekend workshops.

Jocelyn Leavitt, CEO and co-founder of Hopscotch, an iPad app that aims to teach code to kids, said that coding is the new language and it is the new literacy. Code.org, a non-profit organization, said that there will be 1.4 million jobs in computer science over the next 10 years, but just 400,000 qualified graduates. Proponents say that learning computer coding is a skill that will even benefit kids who do not grow up to be computer programmers.

“It’s kind of like looking under the hood of your car,” said Rebecca Schatz, founder of Code Savvy, a new Twin Cities nonprofit focused on helping kids learn computer programming. “It doesn’t mean you want to be a mechanic. It means you’re not moving in a world of magic and mystery.”

CoderDojo, a global movement about providing free and open learning to youth with an emphasis on computer programming, holds computer programing workshops for children. At CoderDojo Twin Cities, kids get a chance to learn computer programming with guidance from mentors, many of them professional programmers and engineers. The event welcomes all interested kids ages 8 to 17 who can learn computer programming for free.

The CoderDojo’s workshops, which were launched this spring and held every few weeks, draw 30 to 40 kids. The kids play with different programming languages and learn computer animation and Web designing from mentors who work in the Twin Cities tech community.

“There’s an untapped reservoir of interest among young people who want to learn this stuff but aren’t necessarily getting this in school,” said Matt Gray, vice president of technology at Clockwork and an organizer of CoderDojo Twin Cities.

Tim Barrett, director of education and workforce development for the Minnesota High Tech Association, said large and small local businesses are struggling to find people with computer programming skills. “The need is really there,” he said. “It’s one of the hardest things to fulfill.”

Barrett also said that the association has had conversations with the Minnesota Department of Education about developing computer programming standards eventually.

But it’s hard to develop curriculum and evaluation measures around such a complicated and fast-evolving topic, he said, especially when teachers already have many subjects to teach.