Talking in code: An essential language for youth

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Learning the language of code is fast becoming an essential skill for the next generation in our increasingly digital world, writes Seán Kelly.

Seán Kelly is an Irish MEP from the Fine Gael Party, affiliated with the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).

Every email, every swipe of your credit card and almost every household appliance with a plug or switch you use depends on code or computer programming. It is almost impossible to live and work in today’s digital world without using code in our daily life.

We have 24 official languages in the European Union but it could soon be 25! Learning the language of code is fast becoming an essential skill for the next generation in our increasingly digital world.

Europe’s Digital Progress Report for 2016 confirms that internet provision across the EU is improving. The research found that fast broadband technologies or Next-generation access has reached 71% percent of homes. Internet availability, quality, and speed will continue to rise under Digital Agenda plans. However, the same report found that just 55% of Europeans have basic digital skills. So, while access to technology may have improved, not all of our citizens are able to fully benefit from it yet.

Today, initiatives like EU Code Week are raising awareness of the importance of learning how to code and encouraging citizens to get involved. While organisations like CoderDojo are training the coding wizards of tomorrow, we, as policymakers, can take a step forward by incorporating coding into school curriculum and by supporting coding clubs for all ages in local communities.

Coding clubs are not just about programming lessons. They are ideas factories and a launch pad for young entrepreneurs across Europe. Labour market needs will be increasingly technological in the future. If we provide our citizens with the right education and training, such as coding, we will be equipping them for a prosperous future full of career opportunities.

As a former teacher, I have always believed that encouraging innovative thinking in our youngsters is vital. Education does not end the moment you leave school or university. Giving our young people the gift of curiosity encourages them to remain open to lifelong learning, and with self-belief, they can pursue their ideas.

CoderDojo co-founder, James Whelton, is an excellent example of innovative thinking. The young Irish man from Cork learned to code and went on to found CoderDojo at just 18 years of age, with co-founder and entrepreneur Bill Liao.

In 2013, I was honoured to host the first ever EU Dojo coding workshop event with CoderDojo in the European Parliament.  At the time, CoderDojo was little over one-year-old and was active in 10 member states. Now, there are over 1,010 clubs in 65 countries, 750 of those clubs are Europe-based. That is remarkable growth and incredibly beneficial to the young people who have so much fun at their clubs.

I have since launched the CoderDojo MEP Ambassador initiative in the European Parliament, which aims to promote coding skills to young people around Europe with the help of an MEP Ambassador in each of the 28 Member States. We will ensure the initiative continues to grow across Europe by sharing ideas, experiences and best practices. It will help increase the number of Dojos across Europe and give young people a greater chance to learn these increasingly vital skills.

EU Code Week is also working to build awareness of coding opportunities, but we can do more. Member states can be encouraged to put coding on the school curriculum so that every child has the ability to write computer code, develop websites, apps, programs and games. For that, schools and communities require the necessary infrastructure. For example, public libraries can play a major role in facilitating digital learning.

Europe’s network of 65,000 public libraries will be promoting their expanding role in local communities in conjunction with EU Code Week. Today, those visiting many of our public libraries have the opportunity to use computers and even learn to code as the perfect location for a coding club.

If there is one message policymakers and citizens alike can take away from EU Code Week, it is that teaching children the language of code is not only a highly valuable skill that will help expand their career opportunities later. Coding will open their young minds to innovation, creation and the endless possibilities that such entrepreneurial thinking brings.

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