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May 2, 2017

On programming in elementary school

There has been some ideas floating around on Twitter and news sites the past years that it would be a good idea to teach kids how to program computers in elementary school. The motivation for this is is that we live in a world surrounded by technical gadgets and that a deeper understanding for these things could improve our everyday life.

While I support this idea, I think some people take it a bit too far, without looking at the big picture. Some make is sound like programming should be a big subject next to other, more universal things like language, history and maths. This I do not agree with. Programming is just one part of the tech that surrounds us, but it's easy to forget that there is actually hardware in these things, circuits that have been meticulously designed in order for the software to even have something to run on. There are also other things involved, such as the AC-power leading up to your house, and how that electricity is produced.

What I'm trying to get at is that, yes we should probably teach kids a bit more about computers, but that also includes making sure they understand the basics of the electronics that make up the hardware. A broadened technical subject in elementary school were kids get to build simple circuit boards, do a bit of soldering, get a taste for repairing stuff and on top of that maybe try some programming is what I think we need. It doesn't have to be much, it doesn't have to be several times a week for several years, it can be like once a week for one year. Primarily it should be inspiring and eye-opening.

I actually had a subject called "technology" in 8:th grade and we got to do the stuff above, except for programming. We soldered circuit boards that played music when connected to a 9 v battery, we learned how to change an AC-plug and some very basic electronics theory. However, few of my Swedish friends seem to have done this (so much for a standardized school system!), and it's sad because it was for me one of the most fun and inspiring parts of elementary school.

When I repair electronics, I'm often reminded of that component-filled room with the slightly weird teacher and people poking away with soldering irons.