CODING FOR CHILDREN

1 month ago General80

 

How do we prepare Libya’s children today to be the leading “computational thinkers” of tomorrow? This is one of the most important questions that we must ask ourselves and focus our collective efforts on in order to constructively invest in Libya’s most valuable resource. Children are the rising generations who will be tasked with building and developing the future of Libya. In our ever expanding and inter-connected digital world, Libyan children need to be taught how to think “out of the box” and must not only understand technology and how it works, but also recognize patterns and human behavior in order to solve problems in innovative and creative ways. Nourishing young generations with such skill sets will not only help facilitate the transition process of Libya’s economy from an oil-based economy to a flourishing knowledge-based economy, but also inspire sustainable development and innovation for many years to come.

This is what makes the establishment of coding and computational thinking skills in Libya so critically important. To provide some background, the term “Computational Thinking” (CT) is not new, in fact it was first introduced in 1980 by Seymour Papert, a visionary M.I.T. computer scientist who was a pioneer in artificial intelligence. For over half a century he advocated developing ways on how computers can be used to educate young children. More recently in the past few years, Jeannette M. Wing, a corporate vice president
at Microsoft Research (along with input from other leading computer scientists [1]) upgraded the definition of CT as: “the thought processes involved in formulating a problem and expressing its solution(s) in such a way that a computer—human or machine—can effectively carry out.” [2]

Computational thinking is definitely not about turning children into coders or computer scientists, rather it is about giving children the necessary skills from an early age to succeed in our new digital world—enabling them to solve complex every day problems using this powerful methodology. In today’s business environment computational thinking skills are not only beneficial to careers in virtually every sector, they are essential to the growth and success of any public or private enterprise. In fact, Ms. Wings (of Microsoft Research) foreshadows a future where computational thinking skills will be widely used and considered as fundamental as reading, writing and arithmetic by the middle of the 21st century. [2]

Young children under the age of fifteen make up at least one-third of the Libyan population [3], making it ever so important to nurture and focus our energies on this significant demographic. And so in 2016, Tatweer Research launched a pilot program titled “Coding for Children” (C4C) to kick start the initiation and establishment of coding and computational thinking skills among young primary school children throughout Libya.

The C4C pilot program was a first of its kind initiative in the country; one which is focused on developing long-term benefits for Libyan society rather than narrow short-term attainments. Tatweer Research’s ultimate objective is to implement the C4C program nationwide to enhance Libya’s out-dated educational system with more advanced teaching methodologies and progressive 21st century curricula.

By starting young, children are mentally infused with a strong and long-lasting foundation to better understand how technology works, why it works, and how to think as computational problem solvers. Rather than being passive technology users, children are inspired to become active inventors and innovators who come up with new and practical solutions; which in turn, will help Libya build and develop its knowledge-based economy.

The C4C pilot project began with a teacher training program to implement computational thinking skills in eight different private schools throughout various districts of Benghazi. For the very first time in their professional teaching careers, Libyan teachers were introduced to the principles of computational thinking. And after completing an intensive training workshop abroad, the newly trained teachers came back highly motivated and equipped with the required knowledge to carry out the C4C program in their respective schools.

The classes were taught in a combination of English and Arabic, and since technology and computer science vocabulary is primarily in English, C4C was also a way for young Libyan children to begin learning the English language at an early age.

Due to the many benefits of the “Coding for Children” pilot program, the initiative was met with great enthusiasm and acceptance from teachers and school children alike. The program also received several requests from other schools, asking for it to be incorporated into their educational curriculums. What’s more promising is that parents showed great interest in wanting to teach their children coding and computational thinking concepts even after school hours, expressing how they’ve noticed a positive change in their children’s way of thinking. According to statistics from our evaluation survey, 86% of parents said their children came back home and taught their younger siblings what they had learned in the C4C program; moreover, 93% of parents revealed that their kids began trying to “debug” or solve problems they encountered in their daily life using computational thinking methodologies.

Ultimately, the end goal of the C4C program is to build a highly qualified group of Libyan computational thinking educators who then train additional qualified teachers inside Libya, in order to implement the C4C program in the public education system and roll it out in major cities and small villages throughout the entire country. This most certainly is a definite way to ensure the continued growth and sustainability of such a highly important initiative; and more importantly to guarantee that many future generations of Libya’s young students are empowered with the necessary skills to lead our nation as the decision-makers and change-makers of tomorrow.

 

1 The computer scientists are: Al Aho from Columbia Universtity, Jan Cuny of the National Science Foundation and Larry Snider of the University of Washington
2 Source: Social Issues in Computing, “Computational Thinking Benefits Society” by Jeannette M. Wing, 2014.
3 Source: World Bank
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