There is much discussion happening at the moment about the pros and cons of introducing Coding (computer programming) and Robotics to young children. The Department of Basic Education is already developing plans to make this a compulsory subject for children in schools, as early as Grade R.
The reason for this is seemingly logical: the more and the earlier children get used to thinking in a technological way, the better they will be prepared as citizens of the future.
Willem van der Velden, Academic Head of the Centre for Creative Education, is a keen computer programmer himself, but he has reservations about the introduction of these subjects at such a young age.
He shared his reasoning with us:
At the Centre for Creative Education, a Teacher Training college in Plumstead, Cape Town, we have compelling reasons for a more careful choice as to when children should be exposed to Coding and Robotics.
A child develops in stages, and education should assist the child with whatever is needed at each stage. There is an appropriate time for everything and thinking “earlier is better” is often not true.
It is widely recognised how important free play is for pre-school children, instead of being coerced into intellectual learning too soon. A fourteen-year-old could easily learn to operate a car, but there are good reasons to wait with that until they are “old enough”.
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While children grow up, they focus on developing different capacities in the various phases.
Physical skills, such as balance, dexterity and handling objects, should form the main focus for the youngest children, up to the end of pre-school. Although primary children continue practising physical skills, they now focus on connecting to and learning about their world. They need to learn in a very lively, open-minded and imaginative way, more at the level of emotional intelligence than of pure logic.
Only once they have become adolescents, in High School, are they ready to focus on the development of logical and abstract thinking skills.
As the developmental phases indicate, the High School phase is an appropriate time for pupils to learn to align their thinking with technology. However, during the pre-school and primary phases of childhood, while the children’s thinking is still very much in development, it is detrimental to emphasise the true/false logic that is needed to operate computers and robots.
Instead, these earlier phases should assist children in learning to think freely, developing imagination and creativity. In today’s society, the balance between the left and right hemispheres of the brain is already under attack, and therefore we need to avoid emphasizing our children’s left brain too much in their early years.
Childhood should be a time to be physically active
On the basis of the above, the main concern about demanding that young children learn coding and robotics lies in how it affects the development of their thinking. Further concerns include the additional screen time children would be exposed to by adding coding as a subject.
Screen time in children’s lives is rapidly on the increase, despite warnings about the physical and emotional dangers of replacing one’s world with a virtual version.
Childhood should be a time to be physically active, to make things happen, and to grow interest in the real world, especially outdoors. If coding becomes an extra subject at school, it is unlikely that the time to teach this will be taken from core subjects like maths and language, but more likely taken (again) from arts and crafts.
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Pre-programmed “learning activities” reduce the humanness
In its Teacher Training programmes, the Centre for Creative Education promotes the importance of the interpersonal relationship between a teacher and his or her learners. Increasing technology-based learning, by showing children videos or by letting them interact with software that takes them through pre-programmed “learning activities”, reduces the humanness in the process of teaching and learning.
The final question is whether doing Coding and Robotics from a very early age is at all useful for the future of a child, once he or she matriculates and enters our society. Computer literacy is then completely essential, of course. Coding (programming) skills, however, are only useful for a very specific group of professions.
A large majority of computer users do not need coding, but use software packages for various professions (architecture, accounting, graphic design, etc.). Computer programmers do not even have an advantage in terms of using such software packages. Training to be a pianist and training to be a piano tuner are just completely different things.
In conclusion, we strongly oppose the plans to make Coding and Robotics compulsory for young children.
If you agree with taking on this position, we invite you to support our petition to the Department of Basic Education. Sign the petition here: www.cfce.org.za/petition.html. For more information visit the Centre for Creative Education.
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