17 May 2019

Nigeria: Coding Is As Basic As Reading and Writing for Younger Generations

Photo: New Times
(file photo).

Coding is not for the future; it is part of the present. Arming children with knowledge and an understanding of coding is equipping them for everyday life. We consider the reasons for teaching children to code and take a look at such institutions as Nigeria's 9jacodekids Academy that are doing exactly that.

We live in an age when technology is a basic necessity. The world is changing rapidly, making it imperative that education changes with it. It is no longer acceptable or adequate to have technology that we do not fully understand - future generations should not only know how to use it but they should also know how to create new technology or alter and combine existing technologies in innovative ways for everyday solutions.

This is why coding for children should be part of every teaching curriculum, or at least an extra class to be prioritised by astute parents. Additionally, teaching your child to code when they are still young is important, because youngster have an easier time learning skills than adults. Reasons that coding is important for young children include:

Code is one of the most widely used languages - Almost every occupational field relies more and more on software and software development for success. For this reason it is predicted that in the very near future there are likely to be millions of jobs that will be dependent on coding.

Coding boosts problem solving and critical thought - Learning coding techniques helps children develop critical thinking skills and problem solving abilities that are not only important in computer science but in life generally. This 'procedural literacy', which is the ability to think about and understand processes in the world, will be an invaluable asset to them.

Storytelling and creativity through code - Code also helps children develop fluid thinking because coding is sequential. Most programming languages designed for children use games that require them to follow (or, even better, create) a story line or sequence as they play and code.

Some countries are further along in making coding a part of a child's education. In Nigeria there are programmes for children that teach them to code in fun and engaging ways. One such institution is the 9jacodekids Academy, a STEM education institute that provides coding and robotics programmes for children aged 4 to 16 years.

Since 2016 the Academy has taught more than 1 500 students from across Nigeria to develop core coding skills in web design, mobile app design, game design, robotics and artificial intelligence.

"We believe it is not enough to learn how to code. Our students should be able to use their coding skills to innovate and create value. Our model is based on a three-pronged approach of technology, innovation and entrepreneurship," the Academy's website explains.

Recently, two of the academy's students, Fathia Abdullahi and Tobiloba Owolola, were featured on BBC Africa for building robots that solved everyday problems. Fathia built a robot that folded T-shirts while Tobiloba built a robot that sensed objects and removed them.

In their interview with BBC, the two excitedly showed off their innovations: "This is the robot grabber. I programmed it to identify the object, grab it and take it to another position," Tobiloba, 12, explained. "I started coding when I was 10. I found Lego robotics really interesting, I wanted to do it all the way through."

He already knows what he wants to do in the future: "I love coding. That's why I want to be a robotics engineer."

Fathia, on the other hand, said about her project, "I started coding at the age of 11. I decided to build a robot that folds clothes because that is a big task we have at home. We wash clothes and there would be a lot of T-shirts to fold."

And what about her future? "When I grow up I would love to be a food scientist. I would be able to use coding to build so many things that would help me."

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