The importance of educational coding games and tools and the need to bring them into U.S. schools is being recognized at all levels as necessary to the future.
At the recent 12th annual Games for Change Festival, Mark DeLoura, former Sr. Advisor on Digital Media to President Obama, stated that, "Here in the U.S. the President is really behind bringing coding into the classroom." DeLoura also recently told GamesIndustry.biz, "the White House is more interested in pursuing the positive impact that games can have. Education in general is a big focus, and it's certainly an area which games can contribute to."
Despite belonging to the iGeneration, students attending American schools are not yet being adequately equipped with the digital skills, like coding, that will give them access to a whole new jobs market.
The digital skills gap on both sides of the Atlantic is broad, and in a few years time, it will be a chasm. In the not too distant future, 45 percent of jobs will disappear because of technology. According to Code.org, by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computing jobs, but potentially only 400K graduates equipped to fill them. Digital skills have become an economic imperative.
"For this generation, coding is the fourth literacy. Children who have some level of understanding of how the digital world works will have a much more productive work life and the opportunity to fill the gaps in a growing and diversifying market"
Just over a year ago, the UK government instigated a complete overhaul of the computing curriculum in England and Wales. ICT - Information and Communications Technology - was replaced with Computer Science, and programming skills placed at the heart of the new curriculum. Now children as young as five are being taught computational thinking and digital creativity to help them to understand and change the world. An ambitious goal, but a necessary one.
By embedding coding into the new computing curriculum, the UK Department of Education stated the new subject would "ensure every child leaves school prepared for life in modern Britain." A powerful point that needs to be considered in the U.S. too.
As our world becomes progressively technology-mediated, with computers running everything from our cars to our home security systems, the U.S. must cultivate its next generation of innovators - something that's already beginning to happen in the UK.
For this generation, coding is the fourth literacy. Children who have some level of understanding of how the digital world works will have a much more productive work life and the opportunity to fill the gaps in a growing and diversifying market.
Just as with traditional reading and language ability, learning to code should begin at an early age. The coding curriculum must have purpose and creativity at its core, in order to provide multiple opportunities for practice and problem solving. Successful and interactive ways to introduce coding to children is to engage them in educational games. A well-designed game may instill an affinity and aptitude for programming by allowing the child to see their algorithms in action. Viewing the results of their code in an animated game is a powerful motivator. This is demonstrated in the clip below:
How is coding poised to transform today's classrooms?
One of the most frequent concerns about gaming and technology in the classroom is the potential for isolation. A good game in the hands of a great teacher will positively foster social development and collaboration. A well-designed digital environment for learning gives a teacher a rich stimulus for conversation - and students, a fully engaged learning experience.
Another common roadblock when considering the introduction of coding to the classroom is teachers' natural hesitation in tackling a subject they feel inadequately prepared to teach. Providing teachers with high interest, learner-friendly training - and engaging tools - will give them the confidence to nurture digital creators in their classrooms.
"We are failing whole swathes of kids for whom the standardized test is a major de-motivator, but for whom digital creativity may provide an alternative route to a productive and happy life"
With exposure to smartphones and gaming from their toddler years, kids have a natural interest in computer games - they are, after all, the millennium generation who have grown up playing a variety of games on their parents' tablets and smartphones. So to have the ability to harvest that interest and transform it into learning is a huge opportunity.
Mainstream schooling is still very focused on standardized tests and exams at the expense of digital creativity and innovation. Passing exams will give many young kids opportunities in a variety of fields. However, we are failing whole swathes of kids for whom the standardized test is a major de-motivator, but for whom digital creativity may provide an alternative route to a productive and happy life.
Our challenge is to create an integrated technology eco-system comprising of partnerships between schools, colleges, universities and through to industry in order to enrich the opportunities available to young people, both curricular and extracurricular.
Educational games have been around for a while; however introducing the right games into the classroom to teach 21st century skills such as creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration is where there remains a gap. Coding-focused educational games that are engaging and socially interactive are key to effectively exciting learners.
The gaming industry will have a huge opportunity to grow with edtech innovators, such as Mark DeLoura and Richard Culatta of the U.S. Department of Education, who are looking to transform the future of education through technology. With U.S presidential elections around the corner, gaming for learning has the opportunity to take center stage within this high profile educational conversation.