Why a coding education is critical for kids & teens in Singapore today

Published by SG Code Campus
10 Jul 2019 · 5 min read

The rallying call for kids to learn how to code is ringing loud and clear. But how do we know this is not a fad? Technology is changing our world rapidly. Today, a meaningful and relevant education means having kids understand tech so that they can create future technologies.

We live in the digital age, and here in Singapore, we embrace an increasingly digital lifestyle for all the conveniences and efficiencies it brings us. Technology has disrupted nearly every industry, profession and craft. No one sees this more clearly than the parents who get schooled (kindly, we hope!) by their kids or teenagers on how to use the latest new app or online service. Like many generations past and present, the young display a voracious and insatiable appetite for consuming new technology!

As a parent, this can be both comforting and disconcerting. Today’s kids and teenagers are digital natives, which means they will always feel right at home with new technology. The concern is that digitally-native children become adept at consuming technology, passively swept along by the waves of technological change, but unable to shape their own future by actively creating and driving such technological change.

But there is hope! If you’re a parent looking for either something fun to ignite excitement in your child or something practical that would give your child a head start, read on. In this post, we discuss:

  • what is coding (and what it is not)
  • why is it important for kids to learn how to code

What is Coding?

Simply put, coding is the act of giving instructions to a computer to execute.

It can be a straightforward instruction like displaying the words (a.k.a. printing) “Look Mum, I’m coding!” on a screen, or something complex involving thousands of lines of code. Think of each line of code as one instruction for the computer to execute (this is not always the case, but let’s keep it simple for now).

Why a coding education is critical for kids & teens in Singapore today
Coding in Python to print something on the screen
Designed by Freepik

If you are giving instructions to computers, you are able to do at least these three things:

  1. understand what a computer can do so that you can make it do what you want it to do
  2. communicate in a language the computer understands
  3. set clear outcomes that you want to achieve by using the computer.

This means that when kids learn to code, they’re really learning much more than just how to give instructions to a computer. They’re learning how a computer works, a new language to express themselves, and how to solve problems efficiently using logic and math (what we sometimes call computational thinking). If you want to find out more, we go into more details here about what kids learn when they learn to code!

At this point, we’d like to make a few key distinctions.

Coding is not Robotics

And here are the key differences:

  1. Coding relates to a more general field called computer programming, which includes sub-disciplines like software programming, hardware programming, web programming, mobile app programming. Robotics relate more narrowly to the sub-discipline of programming robots and machines.
  2. At the university level, coding builds up to a computer science degree, whereas robotics builds up to a mechanical engineering degree that includes computer programming, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering modules.
  3. Computer programming is more focused on representing the world using data. Robotics is more focused on mechanics and navigating the physical world.
Venn diagram of both computer programming and mechanical engineering
Coding (a.k.a. computer programming) vs. Robotics

Coding is not Hacking

It is not unusual for kids and teens to turn up on the first day of class and tell us that they want to learn how to code because they want to be “hackers”. But coding is not exactly the same as hacking!

We really like this description of the differences and agree that the original and simplest explanation of a “hacker” is someone who creates things by “hacking” a solution together. This suggests that hackers are creative people who get things done quickly and effectively. But there is also a negative connotation that a hacker is often, but not always associated with poor quality code (poorer performance, more difficult to maintain, less scalable or less robust). A hacker is also sometimes associated with unethical coders, a.k.a black-hat hackers. There are ethical coders as well, known as white-hats or grey-hats and you can read more about the differences from Norton (US) which give a pretty clear explanation here.

A programmer on the other hand is a more neutral term that does not carry the same negative connotations as “hacker”. A programmer generally refers to someone who solves problems using code, and can range from beginners to those who are sorcerers with code.

A coder is the most generic reference to anyone who can write code.

Venn diagram of a coder, programmer and a hacker
Be a youth programmer, not a youth hacker

So what do we say to the kids who tell us they want to be hackers? Well, we tell them they should aspire to be ethical, disciplined and creative programmers! We also want them to have fun, hacking together a solution while recognising that they can always improve on the code to increase performance.

OK, so now you know what coding is. But:

Why should kids & teens learn how to code?

There are many good reasons why, but we think the most compelling reason is that our children are growing up in a digital world, this means:

  1. the future of work is digital; all jobs will require baseline tech competencies.
  2. disruptive technologies come and go at an increasing rate; adaptability is key
  3. traditional jobs will be increasingly replaced by machines and Artificial Intelligence; the future belongs to those who harness technology

Coding is therefore the new literacy that kids & teens will need in order to make sense of, and shape, the increasingly digital world we live in. Just like how it is important for kids to learn English, Math and Science even though they may not all become writers, mathematicians or scientists, the kids born in this millennium need baseline tech competencies to stay relevant and participate actively in the future economy.

These trends are already showing up in today’s economy. In a recent Bloomberg article citing Glassdoor research, the highest paying entry-level jobs were data scientists, software engineers and product managers, with salaries ahead of investment bankers on Wall Street. Here in Singapore, the 2018 graduate employment survey revealed a similar pattern with graduates with Information and Digital Technologies degrees among the highest employment rates and salaries.

In conclusion:

Knowing how to code is key to a meaningful and relevant education for kids and teens today.

Being able to read, write and interpret a programming language gives kids an edge in this digital era. It’s never too late for them (or us!) to start.

If you have more questions on how to even begin, we’ve got you covered with this starter's guide on how to get your kid or teenage started on coding. Or you can reach out and find out more from any one of us on Campus!