Technology - Helping 10 million kids - in an hour

13th December 2013 at 00:00
Celebrity-backed campaign calls for `Hour of Code' in schools

Leading figures from the world of technology, show business and politics - including Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, actor Ashton Kutcher and even US President Barack Obama - have joined forces in a bid to encourage more young people to learn computer coding.

The A-listers have thrown their weight behind a campaign called the Hour of Code. This initiative has been aiming to get schools around the world to teach at least 60 minutes of computer programming to young people as part of the internationally recognised Computer Science Education Week, which ends on Sunday. The scheme's organisers hope to reach 10 million students in more than 167 countries.

The move comes as politicians and policymakers around the world are beginning to acknowledge the importance of computing education in preparing students for jobs that are increasingly reliant on technology.

The Hour of Code campaign was started by non-profit organisation, which was set up by twin brothers Ali and Hadi Partovi to expand participation in computer science education.

In a video uploaded to YouTube, Mr Obama said he was supporting the "big steps" being made in the teaching of computer science in US schools to keep "America on the cutting edge".

"Don't just buy a new video game, make one. Don't just download the latest app, help design it. And don't just play on your phone, program it," the president said.

So far, the UK is the only country to have said that every child should be taught computing from the ages of 5 to 14, and bodies like are trying to persuade schools in the US and the wider world to follow suit.

The organisation's director of education, Pat Yongpradit, said that most of his work took place at the school district level, trying to convince them to teach computer science in their schools. Failing to do so would lead countries such as the US to continue to be "merely a nation of consumers rather than creators", the former teacher told TES.

"We live in an information age. The bit is everything and you have a lot of lost opportunities in terms of careers and innovation unless young people are taught these skills," Mr Yongpradit said. "Learning how to code goes beyond being a programmer - so many social entrepreneurs are turning to web apps or web services to get their work done." created its own coding tutorial for the initiative, featuring lectures by Mr Zuckerberg and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. And the organisation also set up a live video conference call with Mr Gates and Twitter co-creator Jack Dorsey for 50 schools this week.

Codecademy, a New York City-based education start-up, also joined in the campaign, saying that it wanted to demystify programming. The group, which is advising the UK government on teacher training in computing, designed an app for the Hour of Code that allows users to learn coding basics on an iPhone.

Zach Sims, co-founder of Codecademy, said that leaving coding to a small number of experts was the wrong approach, because it would be the "fundamental literacy" of tomorrow. "It is not just for computer programmers to learn," Mr Sims told TES. "Coding affects and can improve pretty much everything.

"Whether you are a doctor or a journalist they are all using coding more and more - the whole financial system is based on algorithmic programs. It's the basic literacy of the future."

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