Most people see computers as a magic box whose workings they know nothing about. But for every internet browser you open, programme you install or smartphone app you use you can be guaranteed that some ‘computer geek’ (or small army of geeks) has spent hours if not days or years trying to make whatever it is you’re doing run smoothly. But believe it or not, people are not born with innate computer programming abilities; they acquire their craft through practice and experimentation and like most things, the younger you start the better you become. With computers and technology firmly placed as one of the most integral parts of modern life there is a real need to develop an interest in the next generation computer programmer from a young age.
For the past few months Glasgow Science Centre has been doing just that. They host ‘CoderDojo‘ workshops which teach essential skills in programming to children as young as ten. At these workshops kids get to try everything from HTML and Python to coding smartphone apps, while getting to show off their creativity with their own ideas and projects. For the industry and academic volunteers who support them it’s a chance to share knowledge with enthusiastic learners, and often to learn a thing or two themselves. Founded in Cork, Ireland in 2011, CoderDojo has spread to over 20 countries worldwide. Currently Glasgow has the only dojo in Scotland, but after a recent special workshop at the Scottish Parliament the organisers hope to start more throughout the country.
Also founded this year was CodeClub, an after-school club for 10- and 11-year-olds. While there aren’t any in Glasgow yet, the founders are aiming for a CodeClub in 25% of UK primary schools by 2014. CodeClub teaches Scratch, a computing language specially designed for children, letting them drag-and-drop to create interactive stories and easily reuse parts of other stories.
Even if these children never become programmers, these clubs offer a great opportunity for children to develop logical thinking and problem-solving abilities while having fun. And those that do become programmers will have a great head start as they go on to develop the applications of tomorrow.