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Why Programming Skills Are Being Introduced to Young Children

It is clear to anyone who has ridden the metro through People’s Square at rush hour: computers and computer technology have become a cornerstone of modern society all over the world. The major artery of Shanghai public transportation is rife with smart phones that, by any measure, are as sophisticated and common a sight as any conventional desktop computer. An entire cabin of users engaged in their personal world of TV dramas, eBooks, or mobile games is no longer a novelty.

Meet the CPU

At the center of this information-technology revolution that is infecting so much of our daily lives is the processor, or “CPU:” a vitally important part of any computer. A CPU can be accurately described as a baby that does everything it is asked to do perfectly. It doesn’t think for itself; instead, it follows directions exactly to the letter. A clear example of this also happens to be a good illustration of why correct punctuation is so important. Take a look at the following pair of nearly identical sentences:

The panda eats shoots and leaves.

The panda eats, shoots and leaves.

The two are nearly identical except for the comma in the second sentence. But that one comma changes the entire meaning of the sentence from one describing what the panda eats (shoots and leaves) to one describing what a panda (somehow) does, e.g. it eats (it’s not clear what), then it shoots (it’s not clear what or what at) and then it leaves to go somewhere else. At least for now, most computers cannot infer from the context whether or not the hypothetical comma has been intentionally or unintentionally placed between the words “eats” and “shoots.”

For this and other reasons, programming computers is not only quite diffcult, but takes years and years of practice and study. This explains why computer programmers tend to be highly sought after in any field that requires the use of computers – which, these days, is almost every field.

The focus on STEM

To keep up with this trend, priorities in education have changed over the last 10 years from curriculums strongly focused on STEM subjects like algebra to tech subjects like software programming. Amita Patel, Integration Leader of Primary Information and Communication Technology (ICT) at Yew Chung International School of Shanghai (YCIS), states that the school has even “started to move away from the idea of ICT being a ‘separate subject,’ particularly for our older primary students.” She argues that technology should be incorporated into every area of study, a reflection of how technology these days is incorporated into all aspects of life.

Daniel Horwood, ICT Head of Department at YCIS, adds that at the school, “We believe that computer education is as important as reading, writing, maths or science in a child’s learning.” Students begin with the fundamentals of programming at YCIS, but courses there eventually become much more academically focused, says Horwood:

"Our IGCSE and IB Diploma courses...include theory topics on computer and Central Processing Unit (CPU) architecture, networking, binary and hexadecimal number systems, and embedded control systems."

From the most basic to the most advanced, every computer requires some degree of programming – more depending on the complexity of the tasks the computer was designed to perform. Imagine, for example, the job a satelite is required to do while orbiting the Earth as opposed to the job an office computer is required to do during business hours.

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