Reading, writing and arithmetic are considered cornerstones to a good education. Should web literacy be added to the list?
Professionals and young adults are making the argument that web skills, specifically web coding, are taking their place among must-have foundational knowledge to build promising careers — and not just careers, but life enrichment.
Launching careers and innovations
Code.org, a non-profit foundation dedicated to growing computer programming education, offers a video where young professionals talk of how programming helped launch careers as well as how knowing how to code changes lives and touches humanity by solving problems and making connections. As an example, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder, took his love for web tinkering and connected the world.
While Zuckerberg’s story is well-known and unusual in its scope, Greg Baugues, director of client services for Table XI, a Chicago-based web development firm, says the pieces are there for anyone to build. In fact, he refers to web coding as “digital legos,” a new medium and form of expression with a low barrier to entry and high degree of instant gratification.
Should it be taught in schools?
Bauges contends that schools should consider offering coding alongside music and art, as an alternative creative expression. His own story began in grade school when his parents gave him a rudimentary cassette-driven computer. “When I learned I could make a computer do something with just a few super simple basic language commands, I was hooked,” he says. “I was never an artist and not an athlete, so when I discovered programming, it was like my creative outlet. A blank screen inspired me to build something.”
He admits that today’s languages are more complex and require more effort to learn but feels strongly that every student should at least have some exposure. And if not for creativity, programming and coding can be essential for building logical thinking. “It’s really atomic instruction,” he says, “breaking tasks into the smallest bits you can describe.” That requires a systematic thinking process that will help students in any profession understand what might or might not be possible to ask from an IT department.
The future of coding careers
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics project a 30 percent growth in jobs for software developers by 2020, a faster growth than for all other occupations. Changes in mobile technology, healthcare and cybersecurity as well as a global demand for software contribute to the positive outlook.
How can schools integrate these programs?
Schools can introduce programming in a number of ways, whether an after-school or extra-curricular activity or mainstream course. The advantage of a mainstream program is its accessibility to a wider population of kids.
The ongoing evolution of coding languages presents a challenge to incorporating a fixed programming curriculum so choosing a fluid, cloud-based application for teaching might make the most sense.
Bagues recommends starting with simple but fun programs such as Skitch, by Evernote. The program allows users to annotate, mark up and share documents, photos and presentations. It is colorful, easy to learn and offers endless applications for curious kids.
Mozilla, a global community of users, contributors and developers and purveyors of popular web products such as Firefox, offers a dynamic teaching tool called Webmaker (webmaker.org/teach). Their mission states, “You don’t need to be a wizard to help others” so even schools without dedicated experts can offer ready-made lessons such as remixing content, using multimedia on the web and the basics of languages such as HTML and CSS.
In today’s fast-paced world, it might be time to think of technology and web literacy as an essential tool rather than a teaching outcome. Cory Eksteen, a 23-year-old budding artist agrees. The ability to navigate the online world is critical, she says. “Everyone seems to need a website for something these days and it would be nice to know how to do it. Coding is like the home-economics for today’s generation, a practical life skill deemed necessary for living in our world.”
Carrie Schmeck is a special features and business copywriter from northern California.