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Obama: Coding should be taught alongside the ABCs

"It's got to be everybody. Everybody's got to learn how to code early"

Barack Obama, the President of the United States, has reiterated the value of ubiquitous STEM education, comparing learning to code to learning the alphabet in terms of its importance to the future of the country.

Speaking to Re/Code at the White House Summit on Cyber Security and Consumer Protection, President Obama expressed concern that US tech industries could lose ground to other countries if "good choices" weren't made around STEM education.

"STEM education, huge priority," he said. "Homegrown - we've got to have our kids in math and science, and it can't just be a handful of kids. It's got to be everybody. Everybody's got to learn how to code early.

"Under-represented groups, African Americans, Latinos. We've got to get those kids tapped in"

"Part of what you want to do is introduce this with the ABCs and the colors. And particularly, focusing on girls' participation - math, science, technology - early is important. Under-represented groups, African Americans, Latinos. We've got to get those kids tapped in. That's the largest-growing part of our population."

Obama highlighted current teaching methods in the school system as a particular problem, with many kids - and especially girls - "drifting away" from STEM subjects due to a lack of interest. The President has discussed this issue in the past, pointing to games as a possible tool for making education more engaging for young students.

"We don't lift up models of them being successful in STEM," he said. "Somebody has talked about the degree to which we very rarely see portrayed on television - female engineers. We have to lift that stuff up."

Obama also addressed the "urgent need" for immigration reform, in order to increase the available talent pool for the tech industries and prevent bright students from being forced to leave the country. This specific issue has been relevant to the CEOs of the biggest American tech companies for several years, with 100 of them signing a letter calling for change back in March 2013.

"We have been pushing this hard in Congress. So far, Congress has blocked it," Obama said. "There were some areas where I could help to reduce some of the backlog, some of the bureaucracy, [to] make it somewhat easier for talented foreign students to operate here. But we haven't gone far enough, and the legislation is what's going to be required.

"So we've got to keep on pushing on that. You know, overall, though, the good news is that the ecosystem here is so far ahead of anywhere else. There's so much talent, so much brain power, so much financing."

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Latest comments (26)

Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend2 years ago
Just a little question; what the hell are they going to do with thousands/millions of kids that can program when they leave school? They can barely employ the school leavers they have at the moment, let alone find jobs for these kids who leave with coding experience in 6-8 years time.

You are just going to have many kids who leave school to find no programming jobs available and then apply their shiny coding skills to make money through less than legal application of said skills. Sure, bit dramatic I know, but we saw this with YTS and other incentives to blanket train a particular skill-set in the school levers.

Its not like coding is essential to live these days, all you need to know is how to press the buttons to dispense your food and your fine. :D

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 16th February 2015 11:11am

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Iain Stanford Experienced Software Engineer, Tinderstone2 years ago
Darren, learning how to code does not mean you have to go and do it for a living.

I learnt chemistry, biology, french, english literature and god knows what else at school that I never "do" for a living.

"Coding" (or more realistically, Computer Science) should just be put on a par with other sciences.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Iain Stanford on 16th February 2015 12:35pm

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Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios2 years ago
Yeah, as Iain says - with computers so ubiquitous in western society, it's important that kids understand the basics of the field, just like they should do for the other sciences, humanities and arts.

In addition, an important motivator for a broad education at an early age is to discover what fields really interest a child, and what they *might* want to pursue as a career. But even if they don't, we still need computer-literate lawyers, politicians, police, engineers, etc.
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Show all comments (26)
Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments2 years ago
Indeed, the idea isn't to have vastly more recruits for coding jobs. There's two main benefits; it means people who have an aptitude but would have lacked the chance to realise that have the option to follow it through, which in turn means more scope for skilled candidates, and potentially more diverse ones. The other is that even people who don't take it up as a career can still benefit from the additional technical grounding.
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend2 years ago
No I get where you are coming from, but the whole importance of coding is being a blown up a little by governments, without thinking of the long term consequences. It is just a cool topic that all the leaders are jumping on to get the younger vote.

I am all for teaching kids to code, but I don't think it has the same importance as reading and writing. Sure, a basic knowledge of computers is essential these days, but programming is not by any stretch of the imagination.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 16th February 2015 1:03pm

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the long term consequences
The consequences being that more people will grow up with a better understanding of computer programs and how they work? Oh... no...?

I don't understand how anyone could see downsides in this, particularly people in our industry.
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend2 years ago
Sorry if you think that me looking on the negative side is somehow dissing the home team. I look at a situation using my own experiences/knowledge and presented information to arrive at the most probable outcome which sometimes does end up on the darker side.

Of course this is what I come up with in my head, so the validity or accuracy is just what conclusion I have arrived at on any particular day, could be right, could be wrong.

Though I do run a course that teaches 40+ kids/autistic kids how to make computer games in the evening, so I do have some experience on what kids think about coding.

Just a little side note about current teaching practices; I think they are massively outdated and IMO will be overhauled within the next few years to be more about information acquisition and filtering than learning things from textbooks. It is a byproduct of our advances, but we don't need to know things anymore, we just need to know how to find the information we need for a particular application. We are in essence moving towards a hive-mind setup with the internet.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 16th February 2015 1:39pm

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Bradford Hinkle Associate Product Manager, Spicy Horse Games 2 years ago
Adding programming to the list of subjects is fine. The real reform we need in our education system is how we assess student competencies. Blanket standardized tests teach children how to take tests, not think.

As far as immigration reform, Darren made a point about not having enough jobs and he is right. Passing "legislation" to help skilled foreign workers stay is not treating the issue that there are not enough skilled jobs to go around. Help US citizens first is my opinion, selfish as it may be. I left the US because the only paying jobs near my hometown were in the Oil and Gas Fracking boom.
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Marty Howe Director, Figurehead Studios2 years ago
Darren, you said you're thinking long term. But long term is computers.

Think 100 years in the future, 1000 years in the future. Don't just keep reading. Stop. and really try and imagine what the world will look like in 1000 years.

Everything will be driven by technology. Computers and technology will dominate everything. even replacing human workers etc. If you want your kid, to have a job in the future, stick with computers and the internet. It's a sure bet. Obama has foresight, he's thinking into the future. Imagine a whole generation of kids, learning coding at such a young age (being forced to) imagine the result. A kid might be a genius, he might discover his hidden talent.
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Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee2 years ago
hat the hell are they going to do with thousands/millions of kids that can program when they leave school?
Not sure why you would necessarily have to find jobs for them all, when they can technically start making their own. That's the beauty of giving people such skills from a young age ;)

Other than that, as someone suggested we learn about language, biology and other seeminly random things, that are actually not so random but quite useful in life even if they're not our careers.
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend2 years ago
Darren, you said you're thinking long term. But long term is computers.

Think 100 years in the future, 1000 years in the future. Don't just keep reading. Stop. and really try and imagine what the world will look like in 1000 years.
@Marty

I agree computers are the future.... for now.

But if anyone actually stops and looks at natural evolution of any technology you would see that coding will become a relic like computers themselves will also. Google is working on AI to write far better programs than humans could, put it bluntly we aren't smart enough to compete with computers in the future. Coding is old skool and will be replaced by either AI routines that write better code than we can or a new way of getting systems to do what you want it to via some high level interface interaction (not writing words on a screen).

Now don't think that I am against teaching programming in schools, I am not. But I am long enough in the tooth to know that coding is a means to an end, not the end itself. I remember coding in machine code way back in the day but that all changed because of new computing techniques. Modern coding is basically an interface to the computer functionality which will be replaced by a more high level way of doing things. Just look at Unity or any other game engines, the coding part will become history just as writing with pens and paper is now seen as quaint.

I just call it as I see it.

Edited 6 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 16th February 2015 2:16pm

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Anthony Gowland Consulting F2P Game Designer, Ant Workshop2 years ago
God I hope my kid's not working away coding in 1,000 years time!

I think teaching coding is a good thing, in that it sets people up with problem-solving skills and gives them some insight in to how computers / websites work (rather than just being magical black boxes that beep and boop).

But I agree that thinking very long term, coding C++ isn't going to last. Better to teach kids stuff like Stencyl/Scratch and make more in-depth courses available to those who are interested.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Anthony Gowland on 16th February 2015 2:52pm

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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend2 years ago
Lol, I know what you mean Anthony. My son loves computers/coding but had the foresight to get into cyber crime....... prevention!! He has already been offered a job at GCHQ but knows coding in its current form wont be around for ever so is keeping his options open.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 16th February 2015 3:20pm

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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 2 years ago
I would heavily disagree

Kids today are far less computer literate than they were twenty years ago. Because you don't have to learn anything, or know anything about how it works to use one anymore.

I make $50 a throw putting in and formatting hard drives on the side. $100 if I have to install Windows or OSX. Seriously, I see it three times a week that they can't bother to read a manual to open panel, remove old drive, insert new, insert disc or thumb drive, follow prompts. I'm happy to take their money, but they are not computer iterate even to the degree most of my classmates were.

There's a reason you don't teach algebra in elementary school, and since that's ehat coding is, I fail to see why you would teach it early. I know for a fact that I would have bombed it on any grade level, as neither algebra, not programming has ever made a lick of sense to me. There was a time when I was a pretty great HTML coder, I could kludge tables with the best of them, but if I were asked to write anything that actually executed, forget it.

Much better to invest that money in critical thinking skills, another huge thing kids today lack and has been drummed out of the educational system in favor of testing. You wouldn't believe the number of kids who can't tell a difference between an advertisement and an editorial. And that when its not subtle, not designed to be stealthy, but blatant. You can teach that early, and it will help,those who want to code later
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Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios2 years ago
Google is working on AI to write far better programs than humans could, put it bluntly we aren't smart enough to compete with computers in the future.
Hmm. That requires EXTREMELY advanced knowledge representation. I can see computers being good at optimising a routine or using genetic algorithms to solve a problem with a measurable outcome. But even that will require humans to carefully choose the measure of that outcome (eg. the famous GA procedural locomotion test, where the metric was to reach a finish line 10 units away. The optimal solution was a 10-unit-tall brick that fell over).

Doesn't seem like a good argument not to teach the next generation how a cornerstone of their society works.

Also we'll need at least one plucky hacker to lead the resistance when said AIs take over. OBVIOUSLY.
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend2 years ago
I don't think anyone is saying not to teach coding in schools, but the more cynical of us do see that the current headlines are purely vote grabbing exercises. Saying "It's got to be everybody. Everybody's got to learn how to code early" is a crock of crap plain and simple and Mr Bama knows it.

Everyone drives a car but do we say "It's got to be everybody. Everybody's got to learn how to run ECU diagnostics and strip engines early"? Ok that was a little jokey, but still I think you just teach coding to those who want to learn and give everyone else 'computer classes' like they do presently. (If we are sticking with old skool schooling)

But yes, we do need a John Connor!! :D

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 16th February 2015 5:56pm

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Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship2 years ago
Google is working on AI to write far better programs than humans could, put it bluntly we aren't smart enough to compete with computers in the future.
If we ever figure out how to get computers to write original software, we've effectively solved strong AI. At which point there is almost no job on this planet that we couldn't get a computer to do better than a human.

There's an enormous list of jobs that software will make redundant over the next 30 years or so, but I strongly suspect writing software isn't one of them.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nick McCrea on 16th February 2015 6:03pm

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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend2 years ago
Google is working on AI to write far better programs than humans could, put it bluntly we aren't smart enough to compete with computers in the future.
I think people are reading a little too much into that statement and I wish I would have worded it differently.

My reasoning behind what I said is this; accessing computer operations is the main objective that coding is used for, though the way in which we do it is clunky and slow at best. Once someone has written a bit of code, it usually gets added to the massive list of code resources on the internet via repositories/source control.

I would estimate that 70% of code routines for pretty much everything imaginable have been written by someone, somewhere and uploaded to the internet in some form. Google's AI just needs to know how to search & recover, optimise, and refine code, not program it from scratch. Therefore we will have a small number of 'expert' coders and everyone else will just pick 'components' from a repository in a high level editor instead of writing the same bits of code over and over again.

Yes, some of you have written me off as mad seeing as my job involves programming and I am ringing the death bell for the very thing I do. I know it isn't going to happen for 10-20 years yet, but by the time that Mr Bama does his bit and the courses are up and running I do imagine we would have moved on from old skool written code to a simpler diagrammatic format for generating programs.

Sure, there will still be coding jobs, but not on the scale that the headline implies.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 16th February 2015 6:20pm

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Brook Davidson Artist / 3D design 2 years ago
I agree with Darren on this one. Programming is something that is constantly evolving. Learning programming today will not help you with programming of tomorrow. In other words, in many cases by the time these kids come out of school the programming they learned earlier would be irrelevant. This sort of thing already happens even in college. Which is only 4 - 6 years or so. By the time you are done, some of the things you learned in your earlier classes may no longer apply. The is especially true when it comes to tech majors.

This can also cause bad habits to surface in people. When you teach something like coding, you want to teach the person the right way to do it. If you teach them early on, and later down the road they decide they do want to take programming and turn it into a career, they will have all this knowledge that no longer applies and can cause them to actually code more poorly than someone learning from scratch.

Well ... at least that is my 2 cents on the matter. XD
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 2 years ago
That's a good point that unless you're learning it in clise proximity to using it, it's very different, but the base concepts don't change.
The bigger issue is at what age enough children can absorb, process, and execute it to make it worth including in the curriculum.
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Brook Davidson Artist / 3D design 2 years ago
@Jeff
Ya, once you learn programming, you will still understand the overall concept regardless of future changes. So it will be easier to pick back up later on, no doubt about that. I think if we decide to add programming to schools curriculum, it really should be extremely basic. Just enough to give them a taste of what programming is, and how it's done. The real stuff should come when they have chosen to take on the task of being a programmer.
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 2 years ago
@Brock

That much I did give myself. I can follow code, I just can't generate it, at least on a small app/Java level. Pretty sure I'm screwed when it comes to assembly :)
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Keldon Alleyne Developer, leader, writer, Avasopht Ltd2 years ago
I'm sure there were just as many objections to teaching maths and science, because everyone knows that you'll only end up in the mines.
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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises2 years ago
Obama's really good at telling people what they want to hear, and then getting their vote.
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Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios2 years ago
Cynic! He's on his second term though, so he can't run again.

I don't think anyone is suggesting kids should be taught memory management and the pros and cons of strong and weak smart pointers in C++. Just enough to understand that computers aren't magic and will only follow very specific instructions. If they only remember "garbage in, garbage out" then I count that as a win.
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Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee2 years ago
but by the time that Mr Bama does his bit and the courses are up and running I do imagine we would have moved on from old skool written code to a simpler diagrammatic format for generating programs.
Hmm, I thought the same about graph theory :p
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