Should schools teach coding as part of the curriculum?

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Schools should teach kids how to write computer code as a basic part of the education curriculum or risk Australia falling behind, technology leaders argued on Tuesday.

Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes said the lack of computer basics teaching in schools came down to the federal government’s reluctance to face the importance of technology. “The government doesn’t understand technology,” Mr Cannon-Brookes told The Australian Financial Review and Macquarie Future Forum in Sydney.


“[Britain and the United States] are much more paranoid about this issue and they are much more progressive about this issue,” he said.


Last year, Britain rolled out a new curriculum where all primary and ­secondary students are required to learn programming.


According to the tech industry-backed, 20,000 teachers have begun to teach coding in the US since December last year.


“In 20 years’ time we are going to heavily regret the fact that we did nothing about it,” Mr Cannon-Brookes said.


At tertiary level, programming should be integrated as a one- or two-year course as part of other generalist degrees, he added.


Programming is not part of the education curriculum at present, which means students can leave school without any basic understanding of ­computer science. Secondary students can elect to study information and communications technology.


However, 58 per cent of ICT teachers in years 7 to 10 and 48 per cent in years 11 to 12 were not qualified to teach the subject, according to figures from the Australian Council for Education and Research.


Paul Bassat, co-founder of SEEK and Square Peg Capital, said he was concerned that schools were not offering programming, which has become an essential skill, as part of the compulsory curriculum. “Is maths an elective? Is English an elective?” he said.


“I’ve got kids – one in year 12, one in year 11, one in year 9 – and all three of them are going to leave school without learning how to write a single line of code . . . I find that truly extraordinary.”


Mr Bassat said schools should ramp up their curriculum to keep up with the changes instead of expecting organic change. Since 2001, the number of students starting IT degrees at ­university declined by 36 per cent and the number of students graduating from those degrees by 41 per cent.


The state of IT education could put the nation at a competitive disadvantage, not just in the technology ­sector but across all businesses, Mr Cannon-Brookes said.


“It’s not whether we have enough people to build the next Atlassian, it’s whether we have enough people to be competitive in all the businesses you guys work in.”


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