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Computer literacy is vital for children

When my daughter was a toddler, I was relaxing on the couch and watching Meet the Press. My daughter, who is now five, wobbled up to the TV and started swiping across the screen to get rid of Chuck Todd’s face, probably looking for Dora and Boots. It was a benign yet remarkable act that illustrated the vastly different digital-centric world my children will grow up in compared with my own analogue childhood.

I still remember the colour TV I had as a child. It was a Zenith 25C Series with a 25-inch cathode ray tube that was encased in a dark wood cabinet. We had that TV for more than 15 years before it died. Meanwhile, my kids are growing up with iPads and curved LED screens.

We are in the middle of a digital revolution that is transforming the world around us and our expectations when interacting with it. My children assume all screens are interactive and that digital content can be consumed on demand. This new technological epoch has fundamentally changed how we connect with the world. Therefore the basic skills our children must now possess need to evolve accordingly. Chief among these is literacy in the language of computers – or coding.

When I was growing up, computer coding was the esoteric domain of hobbyists, a euphemism for nerds. Many of the world’s child nerds of the past are now billionaires through their mastery of coding and technology. So like any good, overcompensating parent with a misspent youth, I want my children do the exact opposite of whatever I did and understand that computer coding is not just for nerds any more.

I don’t want my offspring simply to be consumers of technology, I want them to understand the logic and language required to create, shape and control it. I view this as a foundational skill that will position them to understand better the digital interface of the world they are connected to and to ultimately be more competitive in the job market.

After all, hiring computer programmers is no longer the sole domain of the technology industry. All industries now hire from this field. Let’s do the maths., a computer science advocacy group, says the average lifetime earnings of a high school graduate in the US is US$580,000. A college graduate can expect $1.2 million and a college graduate with a computer science (CS) degree can expect to earn $1.7m. So the average CS graduate will earn 42 per cent more than all other undergraduates. Computer science-related jobs are the single highest source of new jobs in the US, representing 16 per cent of all job openings last year.

There’s more … CS-related jobs are expected to grow at two times the rate of any other job type over the next 20 years. But while 90 per cent of parents polled in the US would like their kids to learn computer science or coding, only 40 per cent of US schools teach CS. I assume UAE parents would also like their kids to learn coding, but the number of local schools that teach it is less than 20 per cent. Finding supplemental computer programming education, particularly in Abu Dhabi, is also hard, which needs to be addressed if our children want to compete with their global peers.

I have seen first hand the intense local interest in digital start-ups. I have also witnessed the massive disconnect between ideation, technical foundation and technical execution. A growing digital start-up ecosystem cannot sustain itself by outsourcing technical development. Instead, it must organically build and retain its technical resources to capture as much of the subsequent wealth creation as possible. This is a generational challenge that begins with building those home-grown foundational skills at an early age. The digital world is growing by the day and those who have the tools to shape this world will have a tremendous competitive advantage. As parents, we should proactively seek to help deliver these tools to our children. Speak to your child’s school administration about adding or creating a computer science programme and summer programmes.

While coding is not a guaranteed panacea to your child’s career success and personal fulfilment, even a basic understanding of this language will offer greater insights into our interaction with the technology that surrounds us.

Bernard Lee is the chief executive and a co-founder of GlassQube Coworking, a coworking business centre in the UAE. He is also the co-founder of The Coding Club for seven to 10-year-olds. Visit:



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