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Programming education gets boost

28 February 2013, 10:36 Duncan Alfreds

Cape Town - Google announced on Tuesday the launch of a new educational programme to teach young people how to write computer code.

The search giant announced on Google+ that the code.org programme would contribute to improving programming skills.

"Built around the vision that every child deserves the opportunity to learn how to code, code.org is raising awareness around the need for students to learn programming skills and the opportunities available to them when they do," Google said.

The ability to write computer is the foundation of modern technology, but it is not a skill that is often taught in schools and often, students only get the opportunity at institutions of higher learning.

Google garnered the endorsement of several high profile figures for the programme which is available to people from around the world.

Skills lacking

"Learning to write programs stretches your mind, and helps you think better, creates a way of thinking about things that I think is helpful in all domains," Microsoft chair Bill Gates said.

Online destinations like Google and Facebook require workers with top-notch computer skills to expand their user base, but find that skills in critical areas are lacking.

"Our policy at Facebook is literally to hire as many talented engineers as we can find. There just aren't enough people who are trained and have these skills today," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

According to Google, there will be one million more jobs in programming than students by 2020 and 90% of schools in the US do not offer computer programming as a subject.

In SA, the problem is as acute and there are efforts to remedy the situation.

In late 2012, BlackBerry opened an apps lab in Cape Town to try and develop programming skills and entrepreneurship.

"There are a lot of software development jobs that don't require the high level of mathematical, algorithmic kind of expertise that a computer scientist is. People who have a good language ability can also be software developers. The key thing for software development is the ability to solve problems," Jenny McKinnell, executive director of the non-profit Cape IT Initiative (Citi) told News24.

Education system

She said that programming skills need not be taught by maths teachers as is often the case.

"Language teachers could be teaching software development. There're programs internationally where you can teach them basic algorithms with a pencil and paper," said McKinnell.

Students at Stellenbosch University are also being encouraged to create technology start-ups in a competition that awards R100 000 in prize money.

One of the sponsors though, said the education system does not deliver requisite skills to ensure that students can create world-beating ideas.

"I think the education system at a primary and secondary level is failing. There are opportunities within South Africa that are great examples of education solutions that need to get to scale," said André Hugo, director of Deloitte Digital.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter


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