Sunday, June 21, 2015

Investment in code literacy in Finland

There's a lot of experiences that define our ideas that we feel the need to pass on. Since I'm taken on a thread of teaching kids (mine in particular, but others while practicing), I've spent a significant amount of energy thinking about things I do not want to pass on. Things that are very much a heart of my experience in the IT industry.

The first one is kind of evident. I'm the one woman amongst 20 male colleagues. But whenever I hang out with teaching kids on things related to creativity with software, I try not to mention the gender gap. I'm committed to "fake it till you make it", with the idea that by the time my kids are in the age of realising that coding could be in anyway gendered selection, they have been modelled courses where there's a pair of a man and a woman teaching and the whole problem has vanished. Talking about it would just make girls consider their stance on would they want to fight for their right to exist like the current generations have in IT and boys think the division is what is supposed to be, as it has always been there. There's no reason for the division. There's no reason to waste their time early on in managing the bias that could be gone by the time they are there.

The second bias I have just hit me today. I'm biased on not having kids aim high on requirements on their programming skill. "We're not trying to make them professional programmers" is a common message. But actually, we are. We are investing significant amount of their learning time and the level of professionalism in programming as we know it now is so varied, that I'm sure we can easily target better skills than the worst professional programmers I've worked with.

The investment in code literacy is significant. The school system in Finland changes in 2016 so that coding penetrates all classes of elementary school. It's a significant investment of time to help the kids learn to use coding to help their other studies or whatever personal aspirations they have. I've grown to like the analogy that we're teaching code kind of as we needed to start teaching reading in the middle ages, to make reading and writing a common thing instead of a small group's privilege - we need to enable everyone's contributions. I'm thinking of a phrase I picked from What is Code -article: "If coders don't run the world, they run the things  that run the world".

I need to stop letting my bias limit how high we aim for. A step at a time, they will have years of practice by end of 9th grade that I never had. And it will not be just if they are "hobbyist" in computers, like myself and my brother were back when we were young. The aim of being able to program is available for every one. And we need to start working to make the best out of it, instead of passing on the expectations from our (mine) personal history.