Introducing Programming in Primary Schools

Abstract

The age of the computer has not only caught up with the world, but has also engulfed it. Due to the increasing need for computer literate individuals in the society, there has been a clamor to teach children programming from an early age, possibly as early as primary school. Many countries have introduced programming into the curriculum either as an optional subject, or as a compulsory one. Others have sought to do so. This paper looks at the issue of the introduction of computers and programming into the classroom exploring its various advantages and potential drawbacks, and its the challenges that a country seeking to do so might encounter. The paper recommends various options for such a country to adopt so as to have a successful implementation of any plan to introduce programming from primary schools. For this purposes, the report has several parts: The introduction, background to the problem and a rationale of why introduction of programming in primary schools is necessary. It also discusses three game based programming languages, as well as the potential challenges, experience in other countries and a discussion of why it countries would implement such a program. Lastly, it gives recommendation on how to effect such a program.

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Introduction

Programming is a skill that is severely lacking in primary schools. This is in spite programming having the ability to impart not only necessary computer skills among primary school children but also other skills essential for teenagers and adolescents such as problem-solving and critical thinking. Consequently, programming should be made mandatory on all primary schools, as it would not only enrich the childrens educational life, but it would also produce more rounded students. This essay argues that it is necessary to introduce programming in primary schools as a mandatory subject.

Background

Computer studies were not a long time ago, the preserve of a few, who mostly would be buried inside significant computer corporations or in the computer laboratories of major universities. However, the advent of the personal computer changed all that. As computers became more available in the succeeding decades, so did the need to train young people from an early age to be computer literate from a young age. This includes the primary school children who are prepared not only to be computer literate from a young age but also to think critically and be problem solvers.

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Why introduce programming in primary schools? Skills children would learn

Computing and programming are the universal languages of the world. The people who have cognizance of programming can, and can communicate across continents, cultures, and nations. They are also able to be innovative, solve emerging issues in the world, and escape barriers that would otherwise impede them. Consequently, teaching children to code while at primary school will set them up to solve a lot of problems, and open opportunities for themselves.

Moreover, teaching students programming at an early age will make them learn the art of computational thinking. Computational thinking refers to the ability of on to communicate their thoughts in a succinct, logical and structured manner. As coding is done in step by step process, the students will learn to think in such a way. This will lead to a paradigm shift in the problem-solving capabilities of the child as the child will learn thinking fluidly and to be creative. Moreover, children are better at learning skills than adults. Consequently, teaching them how to code at an early age, when their minds are flexible and open, will lead to them learning the programming skills faster. Consequently, introducing coding at an early age to students would assist them in avoiding the shortfalls of trying to learn it as adults.

The children will also have better ratings in the workplace when they grow up. At this moment in the globe, computers are taking over each scope of life. Almost all jobs will require some level of knowledge in computers. Getting it early will ensure that the children will grow up with the knowledge that will assist them. This is more so in the computer and information technology sector continue to grow at an exponential rate for the next few decades.

Game-Based Programming

It is an accepted fact that learning that is done in a way that the students find interesting is not only more likely to be understood by the students and retained, but that they are also more likely to like continuing the learning. This is the concept behind game based programming. As the children find it more interesting, they are more likely to peruse programming in the medium and long run, thus assisting in their understanding of the concepts.

Ke has demonstrates that while learners may encounter problems in an effort to understand the models of object-related programming, employing game-based, together with the collaboration of concrete user interfaces is effective in enhancing the understanding of programming. For instance, when used in the tutoring of the C# language, it is much easier to understand for students and form a vision of, since the operation of the tangible user interfaces is manipulable by user programs are written using the C# language. From their experiment, the authors were able to conclude that the students who attended the course using the tangible user interfaces had a higher interest, and were more likely to do better than those who did not.

The use of game-based programming language is thus a useful tool for teaching primary school children to program. One has several choices in this regard in the selection of programming language. One can pick Scratch, which is an open visual programming language available to all children in the globe. Using this language, children can create their interactive stories. The standout feature of the language is however that, after the children have created their interactive stories, then they can share them with their friends, who are then able to comment. Consequently, the game goes beyond programming and teaches children collaboration from an early age. Massachusetts Institute of Technology created the language, and it is meant for children over the age of eight.

AgentSheets can also serve the same purpose as the Scratch, but for older children, most common those in higher primary school. It is used as part of the Scalable Game Design in the US. The designers of this project made it make computer science more accessible to the typical student, including minorities, through game design. In AgentShield, students build simple, and then immediate, and subsequently sophisticated games. Consequently, through the rising levels, the students can learn different concepts, of various complexities. A study that explored the program showed that the program has assisted in motivating many students not just for their computer science classes, but also for biology and geology among others.

The third programing language that one can use as a gaming concept and assist in learning for primary school children is Alice. Alice is made for teaching programming theory without one having to understand the complex semantics. As it is clear, for novices, production languages like C++ can be complicated to master. Dragging and dropping tiles that stand for rational configurations. Its advantage is that it has no syntax to remember, and consequently, primary school children find it easy to learn. Like the other two, it encourages learning through storytelling.

Challenges in Introducing Programming in Primary Schools

The problems that occur in the introduction of programming in primary schools are several. The first one is that student do not understand the concepts taught. In spite of the best efforts of teachers, and the fact that the content is made to be easily understood, some students may still experience difficulties in learning computer programming. Moreover, students may also lack engagement in spite of the best efforts of the teachers. The same would go with lack of practice by students. Programming is an area that requires a lot of practice. If the students fail or choose not to practice, they are likely not to master programming.

The other challenges are those associated with resources. These include problems such as the inability of schools to provide every student with enough resources for programming. Some students from poorer backgrounds may not be able to afford the materials by themselves, and consequently, the student can lack practice in coding even when willing and able to. Moreover, the schools might also not be able to provide enough teachers for all the classless in need of programming lessons due to lack of funds.

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Experience in Other Countries

Portugal

In Portugal, the Education Ministry organizes and promotes the initiates in schools and via the training of teachers. The courses they include are computational thinking and learning scenarios among others. Balanskat & Engelhardt explain that for primary school pupils, this is done via various initiatives such as having a scratch day, robotics clubs and others. To encourage further engagement, the students are assessed in programming as part of the general assessment of students. Consequently, programming will be evaluated as part of the general skills. This has led to great success in computer literacy levels from a young age in Portugal.

Finland

From 2014, the Finish started integrating computer programming at primary school. Like Portugal, in Finland, programming is accessed as part of the subject skills. On collaboration, Finland seeks to collaborate with key stakeholders to ensure the success of programming education in the country.

Discussion

The introduction of programming in primary school would not only be a boon for the students skills in coding and general computer skills but would also asset the young ones in developing other critical skills from a young age. The other capabilities that the children would emerge at a young age include computational thinking. Computational thinking is not only useful in the computing and information technology world, but it is also a boon in the daily problem-solving world.

The students are also able to develop skills in creative thinking and analysis. Programming via game design fosters creativity as it involves visual programming, students can form visions of various issues in programming and apply it in daily life. Moreover, it can also teach pupils collaborative working, and help foster teamwork from a very early age. Furthermore, it also prepares the children for a career in computer science, and if not in computer science in another area since all jobs now require some basic knowledge of computers. While at it, it has been pointed out that piking skills when younger is more comfortable for children. Consequently, the earlier they start the programming, the better.

However, in spite of all this, the entire process has its disadvantages. It risks overburdening the children with work from a young age, which can be counterproductive. Moreover, children who might fail to grasp how programming works from such an early age might feel discouraged from the entire process and choose to stay out of the area due to its early introduction and failure. Moreover, as noted, some pupils might be uninterested, posing frustration for the teacher.

Ethical challenges also present themselves as regards the teaching of programming in primary schools. The first ethical challenge posed by teaching children in primary school, who are in the formative stage, is cyberbullying. Some of the children might use the acquired knowledge to become a menace to others. The second issue is the issue of the children being subject of cybercrime and internet fraud from outsiders via the use internet. The children might also be the subject of hacking, or in more extreme circumstances, might hack others computers. Moreover, the copying of others work is also an ethical challenge in the information technology education. The teachers, in this subject, will also have a dilemma either to follow the approved curriculum or to follow what the teachers feel will most benefit their students. Moreover, considering the sometimes cumbersome nature of programming, the teachers have to decide whether to cultivate programmers who are culturally sensitive, or to cultivate autonomous, prolific programmers.

Recommendation

From the preceding, it is apparent that while the introduction of programming in primary schools might have a few drawbacks, and it is fright with challenges, the advantages outnumber the disadvantages and the problems. Consequently, the following is recommended: First, the institution of coding at the elementary level of study. At this stage, it should be visual-based programming, rather than text-based. Thus, by the time the pupils are in high school, they will be ready for text-based programming. Secondly, programming should be embedded into the curriculum, and not taught as an optional. Such embedding will ensure that both the teachers and the pupils take it seriously from an early age.

Thirdly, rather than letting if schools have a choice in teaching for programming or not, it should be rolled out on a national basis as one of the core subjects. The production of computer professionals will be less than the demand for the next few decades as the number of jobs in the ICT sector increases.

Fourthly, it is also important that the assessment of programming in primary schools should be done across a wide variety of subject areas. Pupils need to think about programming as a way of life, and consequently, it should not just be tested as a standalone subject, but also in other disciplines where programming can assist children in building models for better visualization of various aspects.

Lastly, it is important to note that teaching programming can be a hard and an immersive work. Consequently, teachers will thus need to spend more time per student than with most other subjects because personal attention in programming is critical. Consequently, the government has to teach and avail more teachers in both the short and long term to cope with the demand.

Conclusion

From the analysis, it is apparent that introduction of programming at primary schools is not only meritorious but also highly beneficial in the long-term. The teaching of pupils programming at an early age will ensure that they get a variety of skills at an early age. These include critical and creative thing, computational thinking, ability to solve problems and developing an aptitude for computers from an early age. However, one has to acknowledge that this is fraught with its challenges and disadvantages. However, looking at the entire picture, it is apparent that the introduction of programming from an early age will is meritorious, and the government should consider the various measures the paper has proposed to ensure that this happens.

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