Within the context of just how much our economy has moved, and will continue to move, towards the digital, the statistic that only 2% of the UK‚Äôs A-level students sit the Computing exam. While it is of course possible to learn to code at a later juncture in life, as with almost anything, children typically pick the skill up much more easily. The lack of coding in high school or even primary school education is leading to a serious skills gap on the UK labour market.
For those parents out there who are concerned that their kids need to get to grips with the latest technology in the world for the best chance of a prospective future, a new ‚Äėbuilt it yourself‚Äô computer that teaches children how to code might be the perfect birthday present. London start-up Kano Computing has launched a range of products that can be compared to a computer alternative to Lego. The kits let kids build their own computer step-by-step so they become familiar with its hardware elements, how they work together and the layers of code that bind them together.
Kids love to consume technology but generally shun learning about how it actually works, seeing this as dry and too much like school work. The aim of the Kano Computing kits is to present coding and learning about hardware in a creating and fun way. Founder Alex Klein explains:
‚ÄúKano lets you create with it. Code art, hack games like Minecraft and Pong, build apps, data visuals, and animations.‚ÄĚ
Learning how to ‚Äėhack games like Minecraft‚Äô certainly sounds like an incentive that will get many youngsters on board. Investors obviously agree and Kano attracted almost ¬£20 million in VC funding late last year. As well as selling the Kano computer kits, the company also focuses on software designed to teach coding, which is already used by 2800 schools in the UK.
There is currently a deep discussion around how and how much coding needs to be taught as part of the UK‚Äôs education system. Because coding languages are constantly developing and those most in demand regularly change, there are concerns around falling into the trap of teaching children to ‚Äėcode by rote‚Äô. Another issue is how realistic it is to expect all children to learn how to code. Benjamin Wohl, a researcher at Lancaster University who studies computing as part of the UK curriculum commented to The Telegraph newspaper that ‚Äúit is too much for most [students], and too basic for the rest.‚ÄĚ
He also points out that while coding toys are fun there is still little research available to confirm their educational effectiveness in terms of them teaching children solid, long term coding skills they will be able to build upon and use in later life. However, it would also seem relatively obvious that toys such as Kano kits certainly can‚Äôt hurt when it comes to developing basic IT understanding, competencies and interest from a young age. Of course, not every child will or even should go on to have a professional career involving coding. But would anyone argue that toys and games that promote learning basic maths or grammar from a young age are a bad thing even if the kids don‚Äôt go on to become accountants or writers?