It’s time we make ‘code’ an official language, and teach it in every school

school coding
“We don’t need to teach kids about technology — they already understand it better than we do!”

That statement, though true in many ways, is at the heart of a serious problem with our education system: We’re failing to equip kids with true tech skills because we assume they’ll develop those skills on their own, or that they already possess them. That’s simply not true. And it’s hurting our kids and ultimately, society as a whole.

Consider this: Gartner estimates that total global IT spending will hit $3.5 trillion this year, while Accenture predicts that the increased use of digital technologies will grow the size of the global GDP by $1.36 trillion in the next 5 years. All of those dollars equal opportunity for the people who are fluent in tech.

But being able to play Crossy Road while Snapchatting and watching your favorite YouTuber does not count. These are the equivalent of being able to stop a VCR’s clock from flashing “12:00”; they might befuddle adults, but they’re not the skills kids need.

So what do kids actually need to build the next generation of technology and land a job? Coding.

Code should be treated as language

In Canada, CEO of BitMaker Labs, Craig Hunter, has decided to try to do something about that country’s code-deficient education. He’s petitioning the government to make “code” the country’s third official language after English and French.

My son, who is about to enter ninth grade at a Toronto district high-school, has never touched a line of code.

Hunter says the idea for the petition came after enduring countless meetings with tech heavyweights and startups alike, all of them complaining about the same thing: They simply can’t find enough programmers to hire. BitMaker Labs runs training programs for those who want to learn the art and science of coding. Hunter — who was employee #52 at Uber before his current gig — calls it “market-based education,” but isn’t worried that his petition could dry up that market any time soon. “We couldn’t possibly graduate 4 million people,” he says, referring to one of the more aggressive estimates of how many open coding jobs there will be by 2020.

Does that sound ludicrous? It shouldn’t. In the U.K., the government has made computing and programming a compulsory part of primary education starting this year. If you think that the primary age is too young, think again: According to a recent study in the U.K., primary age children say they are more interested in learning to code than in learning a second spoken language like French. This interest begins to wane as they get older, making K-8 the perfect time to introduce them to programming.

Where did it go?

It wasn’t always this way. Back when the personal computer was beginning the revolution that we all now take for granted, there was enthusiasm amongst educators to show kids how this stuff works. By the time I turned 13, in 1983 (yup, I’m old) our eight grade class was being taught how to use BASIC on an Apple II to simulate the press-button ordering system at McDonald’s restaurants. We learned the principles of planning, commenting, using sub-routines and even something as simple as leaving lots of room between line numbers in case you needed to insert some more code later.

Thirty years later, my son, who is about to enter ninth grade at a Toronto district high-school, has never touched a line of code. He gets straight As in math, but he thinks code is boring. No one (and I reluctantly include myself in this group) has ever taught him otherwise.


That’s the danger of not introducing tech concepts to kids. Most of us don’t come to our passions by ourselves. We don’t start life with a love of Shakespeare, or cell-biology or Renaissance-era artistic works. We’re introduced to those things by people who are already passionate about them. Their teachings ignite a passion in some of us.

Sure, I hated math in school and, truth be told, I still do. But I thought programming was cool, and it didn’t take long before what I had learned in school became a desire to write my own code at home. Being familiar with code gave me a big advantage when the Web started its history-changing role back in the mid-90s — HTML was a walk in the park compared to working with FORTRAN.

Opposed to code

Unbelievably, there are those in real positions of power and influence who dispute the value of teaching kids to code. Pundit John C. Dvorak derides the whole idea of computers in schools, calling it a “scam” that the tech industry in perpetrating on an unsuspecting public. He even goes so far as to create a false choice between time spent learning about computers and time devoted to arts and music. Meanwhile, former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, said foundational programming skills are not needed for primary school children, “unless they are going to work at age 11,” according to a report from ZDNet. Perhaps that’s the biggest reason why code isn’t being introduced during K-6 — it’s viewed by many as a skill, comparable to plumbing or electrical work. But it’s so much more than that.

Coding teaches kids the value of iterative improvement over seeking perfection.

As Howard Tullman, CEO of the coworking nonprofit 1871 eloquently pointed out recently, coding teaches kids the value of iterative improvement over seeking perfection.

Why is that a good thing? According to Jim Taylor Ph.D., “Fear of failure among children in America today is at epidemic proportions.” By its very nature, coding is an exercise in repeated failure. Some of my most triumphant feelings have occurred after finally stamping out a particularly elusive bug in a chunk of code. Understanding that failure is not only normal, it’s essential to make any progress at all, is a lesson we don’t teach enough. Logical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and tenacity paired with patience are all important side-benefits of learning a programming language that stick with kids, whether or not they’re ever paid to write a single line of code.

It won’t be a generation of coders

Coding as a career is not for everyone, nor should it be. Unlike 2012’s viral campaign called CodeYear, created by startup Codecademy, I am not suggesting that people drop what they’re doing and try to become programmers overnight. The point is, just as we do with broadly applicable subjects like math and science, we should introduce it and teach it early on so that kids have yet another valuable arrow in their knowledge quiver, whether they later pursue a career in programming or not.


We teach numeracy so that kids can harness the power of numbers. We teach reading and writing so they can communicate effectively. We teach them music and art so they can appreciate and possibly contribute to the creative works that bring joy to the world.

Teaching programming gives kids the skills necessary to make the same contributions to technology.

There are demonstrable benefits to learning a second language as a child. In Canada, the French immersion option is so popular that parents have been known to move neighborhoods just to guarantee their kids a place in the few schools that offer it. They believe that bilingualism gives their kids a big advantage in a Canadian job market that must often cater to a bilingual audience. But what if you could equip your kid with not just one in-demand language, but with the ability to quickly speak any in-demand language?

That’s what learning the principles of programming does for you. Yes, programming in FORTRAN or BASIC isn’t like using Java or C++, but huge chunks of the knowledge gained from using one are directly transportable to the other.

Should we abandon teaching subjects like art, music, Spanish, French or de-emphasize correct spelling and grammar? Absolutely not. But it’s time we acknowledged that a well-rounded education without programming isn’t a well-rounded education anymore.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Home Theater

Puro’s kids headphones don’t just sound great, they help prevent hearing damage

Puro Sound Labs' PuroQuiet headphones are a pair of noise-canceling over-ears that are designed for young listeners, allowing them to jam out to their favorite tunes, but limiting volume to avoid long-term hearing damage.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in March, from Buster Scruggs to Roma

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (April 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.

The Samsung Galaxy Fold won’t sell unlocked, but here’s where it’s available

The Samsung Galaxy Fold boasts top-tier specs in a groundbreaking and unique design, and as such it makes sense that you might want to get the phone for yourself. Here are all the places you can get the Galaxy Fold for yourself.

AMD Ryzen CPU prices get slashed ahead of Ryzen 3000 release

AMD's Ryzen CPUs have had their prices slashed as we edge towards the release of their third generation. Whether you're a gamer or someone who needs multi-threaded performance, there's a deal for everyone with some heavy discounts to take…

The number pad on HP’s Chromebook 15 makes spreadsheet work a breeze

HP's Chromebook 15 comes with a 15.6-inch display, a metal keyboard deck with full-size keys, and a dedicated number pad, making it the second Chromebook model, following Acer's Chromebook 715, to be suited for spreadsheet work.

AMD’s 2020 Ryzen CPUs could have a big boost in power efficiency

The sequel to AMD's Zen 2-based Ryzen 3000 CPUs is slated for a 2020 release and when it arrives, could leverage the new Zen 3 architecture to deliver impressive gains to performance and power efficiency.

Worried about your online privacy? We tested the best VPN services

Browsing the web can be less secure than most users would hope. If that concerns you, a virtual private network — aka a VPN — is a decent solution. Check out a few of the best VPN services on the market.

Gaming on a laptop has never been better. These are your best options

Gaming desktops are powerful, but they tie you down to your desk. For those of us who prefer a more mobile experience, here are the best gaming laptops on the market, ranging from budget machines to maxed-out, wallet-emptying PCs.

Here's how you can download the best free music players for your Mac

Tired of your Mac's default music player? Take a look at our picks for the best free music players available for your Apple rig. Whether you're a casual listener or an audiophile, you're sure to find something that fits your needs here.

Want to make calls across the internet for less? Try these great VOIP services

Voice over IP services are getting more and more popular, but there are still a few that stand above the pack. In this guide, we'll give you a few options for the best VOIP services for home and business users.

Transform into the ultimate leader with our tips and tricks for Civilization 6

Civilization VI offers both series veterans and total newcomers a lot to chew on from the get-go. Here are some essential starting tips to help you master the game's many intricacies.

The iPhone’s Screen Time and Siri Shortcuts could land on Macs this year

For its desktop computers, it appears that Apple may continue to draw from the iPhone for inspiration. iOS 12 features, like Screen Time and Siri Shortcuts, are believed to be making their way to MacOS this year at WWDC in June.

Dell slashes prices of XPS 13 and Alienware 17 laptops in latest promo

Dell's latest promotion will score you big savings on the XPS 13 or the Alienware 17. The stylish XPS 13's discount is for $430, and only the rose gold model is on sale, while gamers who choose the Alienware 17 will save $860.