NZ is Currently Short of 10,000 Technologists: So Let's Teach Coding in School

child programmer

Recently in the UK, there has been a lot of talk about teaching coding in schools, which has made me wonder whether it is time we elevated this discussion in our own education system.

Should we be making coding a compulsory subject in New Zealand? I’m sure at one stage people wondered the same thing about having type writing lessons in schools. Back in my school days, it was an optional subject but those who didn’t take the subject really missed out and struggled as it became imperative to be able to type. So is coding the typing of the next generation?

The UK government earlier this year launched a coding in schools campaign called Year for Code and have put aside £500,000 in funds to train teachers in programming. Their aim is to encourage schools to teach their students at least one hour of entry level programming in March. In September, the UK Department of Education will introduce a new computing syllabus, which will be compulsory for all students aged between five and sixteen. Rohan Silva, the Chairperson for the Year of Code project, believes that “we need to ensure that our workforce is equipped with the skills of the 21st century, not of the past”. However, should all students be forced to learn how to code or is there more benefit in providing choice aligned to the individual student’s interests and abilities?

Google’s Kiwi born and bred Dr Craig Nevill-Manning mentioned earlier last year that Google’s internal research showed an exposure to computer science subjects prior to University strongly influenced future career paths with 98% of Google engineers having had exposure to computer science before University. As well as having played a key role in the launch of Google in Maori, Nevill-Manning keeps close ties to New Zealand with internships for graduates and funding for New Zealand research projects. If we teach generation Z to code, could we create a few more Craig Nevill-Mannings?

So what are we doing in New Zealand to improve computer science in schools and address the shortage of budding technologists?

Canterbury and Victoria Universities have worked with Google (no doubt with some input from Nevill-Manning) to deliver computer science training to high school teachers in New Zealand. Their efforts are similar to those in the UK and look at computer science as a whole, as well as programming.

I believe that learning coding in schools could be beneficial to those who are interested in it, but I don’t see it as something that all students should have to learn. However back in the days we never thought we would use a computer all day at work and have the need to touch type. So perhaps we are moving into a generation where having some programming knowledge may be a necessary part of the job. Or, given the range of challenges already facing our education system, is it just a “nice-to–have” more suited to elective study.

As always, I would welcome your thoughts, comments and insights on this topic.