In the late 1950’s the Soviet Union had just launched Sputnik, seemingly having won the space race. The wish to catch up or overtake the Soviet advance promoted the idea that our educational system was in need of more science and math courses. This launched the idea of an emphasis on STEM subjects, which eventually came to dominate all levels of education to the disadvantage of the arts.
In the current era, the pervasive influence of technology is reaching into the educational system to promote coding. The idea is that computer science has become as essential for students as reading, writing and math. Encryption is promoted as foundational, with computer science essential to American tech companies, which have come to rely on foreign engineers.
An industry backed nonprofit group, Code.org, has as its goal to get every public school in the U.S to teach computer science. A new prototype for Silicon Valley education reform, Code.org pushes for educational policy changes, develops curriculums, offers online coding lessons and trains teachers, raising the question of whether Silicon Valley is swaying public schools to serve its own interest, the need for software engineers, with little scrutiny.
This seems part of a larger tech-industry push to remake America’s primary and secondary schools with computers and learning aps. Although there has been an effort for years to develop and spread computer science in schools, the current movement has supported legislation that could give companies enormous sway in public schools, starting with kindergarten, with little public awareness.
It appears that computer science instruction is being driven by the needs of industry. On the other hand, many parents seem to support this educational focus because of its significance for later employment, which has grown in importance in the present economy. Yet this intensifies the trend of making the needs of the commercial world the dominant factor in the purpose of education.
Particularly questionable is the move toward introducing coding into the earliest school years. As with many academic subjects that have been introduced earlier and earlier the idea that prevails is that earlier is better. What is lost is all that has been understood about children’s developmental needs at those early ages.
The fact that some children are able to learn reading and arithmetic at an early age doesn’t mean it is beneficial for them to do so. As a former colleague would say, to learn what the letter A is, you first have to experience an apple. This means that children first have to come to know about real things in their world before they can learn abstract symbols. As it is, the world of technology has drawn children away from other kinds of learning. Imaginative play and social experience is disappearing as the youngest children spend time on ipads and cell phones rather than interactive play with peers.
The first school years were intended to provide children with an opportunity to explore their senses through the use of various materials such as paint, clay and water, and to use their bodies for climbing and other physical activities.
Children learn critical thinking and problem solving in many ways that are related to real experience. How does one solve a problem involving a conflict with peers? Or how to balance the blocks to create a bridge for cars? Various studies have shown the gaps in children’s knowledge about our country, or current events. The need to return to the teaching of civics throughout the school years has become apparent in various kinds of problematic social interactions.
School hours are limited. Despite Silicon Valley, learning coding should not be the priority for education.