The Need for Coding in a 21st Century Curriculum
While I spent my childhood in the early nineties primarily playing outside with other kids, I started to become more cooped up at home, perhaps even a “homebody”, when the computer and AOL dial-up were introduced along with some of the first gaming consoles for Nintendo and Play Station. Now, I notice that even less children can be seen playing outside with nature since they are inside, their eyes glued to multiple screens where they are playing computer games, gaming on various game consoles and playing even more games on their phones and tablets. Consequently, Boost (2015) points out how “software has become a universal language, the interface to our imagination and the world.” So, if this is reflective of current reality, why haven’t we learned about this language in school? If we did, then we would become more informed of how the technological tools we use and what other potentials they possess.
Jenson & Droumeva (2016) further highlight that "Ontario does not currently have any mandatory computer science related curricula at the grade 6 level” (p. 114). There are rumours that coding may be incorporated into the Ontario Curriculum, but no actions have been made as of yet. Last year, when I taught in England, I was surprised that kids all over southeast London were learning how to code games, use Scratch and even program robots. All of the kids looked so meaningfully engaged in their learning, especially since they are learning how to create things through coding. Accordingly, Rushkoff (2012) stresses that “code literacy is a requirement for participation in a digital world.” If the Ontario Curriculum does not ‘get with the times’ and make a stronger effort to incorporate coding into the school curriculum, then they are doing Ontario’s students a disservice as they will be unequipped with the computational thinking and digital literacy skills that are required to partake in our world, which has become so heavily influenced by technology or as Rushkoff would say, a world that worships technology and computers.
But how would curriculum designers go about incorporating coding into the current curriculum? Would teachers need to allot separate time in their already hectic days for coding? Not exactly. Many cross-curricular connections can be made with coding, especially with STEAM subjects like math and science. In fact, Jenson & Droumeva (2016) ardently argue that computational thinking and algorithmic logic “ought to be considered a kind of ‘core literacy’ that needs to be incorporated into the school curriculum alongside numeracy, textual literacy and scientific thinking” (p. 112).
One of the huge concerns for incorporating coding into the curriculum is that it would potentially engage only the boys in the class rather than the girls, especially since boys are stereotypically the ones more associated with video games and there is no primarily visible presence of female gamers. Jenson & Droumeva (2016) claims that these gender differences may influence “access to and use of computers and gaming consoles, which likely speaks to cultural advertising that targets boys for high-end consoles such as XBOX4 and PlayStation, while establishing a wider audience for ‘educational’ tools” (p. 116). If computer and gaming companies tend to target boys who interact with more strategy games, then how can we introduce how to code these into our classrooms in a gender-friendly way, a way that would involve the girls and help them build their confidence? This is no easy task. There are small organizations in Toronto like Ladies Who Code who do coding workshops that target girls in order to do just this, but for the most part, the world of computer programming tends to be predominantly male.
In accordance with this, Rushkoff (2012) highlights how “code literate kids stop accepting the applications and websites they use at face value, and begin to engage critically and purposefully with them instead.” Considering this, it is easy for educators to promote a culture of inquiry, critical thinking skills and deep learning opportunities by incorporating coding into the curriculum, allowing the students to meaningfully engage with things they use in their daily lives in different and novel ways.