It's often said that young people should be learning Mandarin. Given the rise of China as a global economic power, it certainly couldn't hurt. But learning another language (or group of languages) may be just as important: Computer code.
The Hour of Code is a high-profile push to get 10 million students to take a basic, game-like course on computer programming. Winning the support of such prominent luminaries as Bill Gates, President Barack Obama, actor Ashton Kutcher and singer Shakira, the initiative is not just about increasing participants' knowledge of code, but rather raising the profile of coding as an educational topic — pushing for computer science to be taught as a subject in every single school.
Here's a visual synopsis of why this matters:
Using a self-directed tutorial approach, the Hour of Code program includes video lectures by Gates and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, not to mention appearances by Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies. It teaches how to do some very simple actions on a computer screen including repeat-loops, conditionals, and basic algorithms. It's available in 20 languages and, if this promotional video is true, it is already reaching potential programmers across the globe.
This isn't, however, simply about jobs in hardcore computing — any more than language learning is just about creating translators and language teachers. It's also about boosting our capacity to understand and interpret the world around us. By teaching everybody coding skills, we can help create a culture where technology is not simply something to be consumed — but rather a tool that can be shaped and manipulated, hopefully, to create a better world.
Whether by chance or coincidence, the Google Doodle for the day is a tribute to Grace Hopper, a famous (and one of the first) female computer scientists. There's no telling if she would have taken the Hour of Code had it been available, but I have a feeling she would have approved.
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