March 6, 2012

By: Charlotte Baughen

A new MIT initiative launching this summer, Scratch Jr., is raising questions of how young is too young when talking about computer programming. Scratch Jr. is an extension of Scratch, a free computer program that teaches preschoolers the basics of programming to create interactive stories and games.

Why teach programming to kids?

Programming is increasingly becoming an essential skill of the 21st century digital age. However, the tech industry is still very much dominated by affluent males, and huge barriers remain for the entry of women and minorities into the technology field. In 2009 women held just 24% of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs in the US. The goal of programs like Scratch is to introduce kids to the technical skills needed to work in the tech industry before they’ve been exposed to messages that the field is not for them. Scratch looks to increase diversity in the creation of technology not just consumption of it. In the 19th century the essentials of education were reading, writing and arithmetic. Perhaps in the 21st century we should add coding to this list.

How young is too young to learn programming?

Some education experts are voicing concerns that Scratch Jr. is taking the theory of targeting children too far. There have been questions asked about how developmentally appropriate Scratch Jr. is for children as young as three years old. The program is based on the assumption that children are fluent in reading and know basics such as colors, which they may not be at that young an age. If this program can find a way to reach and train the future generation in the early stages of their education, then perhaps it will help close the expanding digital divide.

<h2″>How Phil Ting And Reset San Francisco Are Encouraging Coding For Kids

On February 28, Phil Ting hosted an event with the Reset San Francisco community to celebrate the launch of Black Girls Code – an organization whose mission is to increase the number of young women of color in the field of technology – and to facilitate a thoughtful discussion about diversity in technology.

On February 28, Phil Ting hosted an event with the Reset San Francisco community to celebrate the launch of Black Girls Code.Black Girls Code runs workshops and classes for young girls, ages 7 to 14, to learn the fundamentals of programming. The incredible event showcased a range of amazing people and organizations happening in San Francisco. The discussion focused on how, as a community, we can encourage innovators to become educators.

As we look to the future of the 21st century digital economy, it’s important that we work together to close the digital divide and encourage more women and people of color to be part of the technology industry. And perhaps the best way to do this is start engaging kids early!