“In 15 years, we’ll be teaching programming just like reading and writing ... and wondering why we didn’t do it sooner.”  - Mark Zuckerberg

It seems like never a day goes by that we don’t use our smartphones, browse the web, or use some new gadget or other. Strangely though, we rarely stop to think how these devices work: the forces working quietly to bring our shiny new toys to life.

Most of us know that coding plays some part in all this. But few of us know exactly what part, or how. And therein lies the problem. We have become consumers of technology rather than creators. However, the future is definitely digital, and nowhere is this more true than the workforce. 

To clarify, ‘code’ is the set of step-by-step directions that instruct computers or electronic devices to do something. These can tell the computer how to respond to a specific user, or environmental, input, whether that’s pressing a button or sensing motion. 

In the UK alone, it is predicted that over the next five years, 1.4m digital professionals will be needed.  But despite the growing demand for skilled candidates, as it stands two-fifths of EU citizens claim to have little or no ability when it comes to technology.  Indeed, coding skills are only held by precious few people. This begs the question of how we can cope with the way the future is headed, if so few of us have the skills to keep up.

There is hope in today’s children who will form tomorrow’s workforce. It’s mind-boggling to think that 65% of students currently in primary school will one day go into jobs that don’t even exist yet! Today’s children must have the skills to cope with the job market they are set to inherit, which is why action is needed - and fast.

Take a look at the video above - it brilliantly captures how technology literate the younger generation are in comparison to their parents! But on a more serious note - how can we ensure our children are ahead of the curve in an ever changing world? And what tools can we use to furnish them with the knowledge and skills they’ll need to flourish?

Creating a global coding movement with the micro:bit

Coding is seen by many as the ‘new literacy’, a subject as important as English or Maths. It is a language that children need to learn to speak and think in.

In February 2014, it became mandatory for schools in the UK to teach students coding. But there is more work to be done. What about the rest of the world? And how best to teach coding to students who are new to it, wherever they are?

Enter... the micro:bit.

In the micro:bit, there is a simple and exciting solution to teaching coding to young people. With the micro:bit the potential is there to make every child an innovator. The device is incredibly compact and can be coded in seconds, whether it’s lighting up its LEDs or displaying a pattern. 

A quick look on the microbit website gives students tips on how to make things as imaginative as a lightbox or Dr Who’s ‘Sonic Screwdriver’ with this incredibly simple multi-purpose device.

To begin, in 2016 the Micro:bit was given to every child in the UK aged 11 and 12. Left to their own devices (quite literally), nearly all students realised that anybody can code, and micro:bit was the tool to help them. Even better, most report that it has made computer science more interesting, and that coding isn’t as difficult as they first thought it would be. 

The initiative has been so successful that there are now plans to roll out the Micro:bit globally, with the goal of reaching 100 million teachers, parents and children worldwide. This is truly the beginning of a global coding movement, with the British Council working as an official partner to bring the micro:bit to young people across the world, including via our British Council libraries, more on which later.

What makes the micro:bit so brilliant?

  • Simple to use: no prior knowledge required.
  • Intuitive: the micro:bit, like coding follows a clear and easy to understand logic.
  • Non-intimidating: coding is made accessible and no longer daunting.
  • Tangible: the device gives users something to physically play with.
  • Motivating: you can see immediate results while using micro:bit
  • Real-world learning: helps young students apply the knowledge to real-world scenarios
  • Creativity: the micro:bit encourages children to work in a creative way

We don’t teach poetry to make poets 

Teaching coding isn’t just about jobs. Education is about producing well-rounded people, regardless of what career they go into. Just how we don’t teach poetry expecting all children to become the next T.S. Eliot, teaching coding isn’t about becoming the next Steve Jobs. Watch the interview with a young Steve Jobs above where he claims coding "teaches you how to think".

With the micro:bit, children develop their problem solving, critical thinking and collaborative skills, all under the guise of coding. Coding pairs well with the logic building structure of writing music, and it has been known that musicians often make great programmers.

Learning to code is also incredibly empowering: by learning the basics, people can go to become agents of change and innovation, wherever they are in the world. 

Girls Who Code is an initiative which offers summer and after-school coding clubs for young girls in the US. The founder, Reshma Suajani, describes how she realised young women are averse to failure, and coding is brilliant for teaching them to take risks. Watch Reshma Suajani's TED talk here.

Coding requires a process of trial and error to perfect, and something as small as a semi-colon can be the difference between success and failure. Suajani describes how: “what I found is that by teaching them to code I had socialised them to be brave.”

Where do libraries come into all this?

Libraries play a vital role in helping people build their confidence in the digital world thanks to access to free Wi-Fi, computers, other technology and helpful staff with IT skills.

At the British Council library you can find everything from books on coding, to coding workshops for children and more. 

In India and Sri Lanka we are working on leading micro:bit workshops, and for those who aren’t local we’ve compiled these free online resources for teaching yourself to code

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