3 Tech Skills Every Kid Should Learn At School (But Doesn't)

It's back to school for us today. And with every passing school year, I have mixed feelings when I drop the Dude off in the school yard on the first day. No, it's not because he's getting. so. big. Or the fact that we're in double digits so he's a senior at his school this year. I mean, those things do affect me, but they're not what bugs me about starting a new year.

No, it's the curriculum.
(Yeah, I said it.)

Being part of the public school system, he's still essentially learning the 3Rs (especially during equalized testing years, don't get me started). And while that was an effective way of teaching kids who were growing up in an industrialized age, it doesn't meet the needs of the information age. He's not learning skills that will help him truly understand the tech world he takes for granted. Right now, it's up to hubby and I to instill that understanding into him. But he should really be getting it at school.

Consider: The Dude and I went to the Ottawa Mini Maker Faire this weekend and met some kids from All Saints High School in Kanata where they are learning robotics. And they kick some serious @$$. In fact, they built a robot that was able to compete in a robot war. In six weeks. It can throw frisbees and climb towers. And it's fast too. Check it out:

All Saints High School Robot
This thing is incredible.
And it was built by kids!!!

But you know what? It's a cr@p shoot whether your kids or my kid will get exposed to this level of engineering, programming and even marketing. A total cr@p shoot. The kids at All Saints benefit from interested teachers and mentoring/ sponsorship by a private company. There are other incredible programs like TechU.me that bring programming into schools, and a recent Indiegogo campaign that seeks to bring 3D printing to community centres, but not all schools are treated equally.

What we really need is a change to the curriculum. Here are 3 things that I would like to see added to the curriculum to adequately prepare our kids for the actual working world they will live in:

  1. Typing: Kids need to learn to type quickly in order to do pretty much anything on computers, from writing to coding to even gaming. This should be as fundamental a skill as learning to properly form letters. (And, to be clear, it should be taught alongside printing/ writing, not instead of...)
  2. Design: Kids should benefit from exposure to how things work. They should learn about design thinking, user experience, visual design and service design. Kids should learn about systems thinking. They should be exposed to not only how things function (science, engineering) but why they function that way (design). This will enable them to consider the tools they use, and understand where they come from (history) and how they might evolve in the future (design, innovation). They should also be encouraged to think about how to modify them, adapt them to other uses and make them better (hacking).
  3. Development and coding: Now, I realize that building stuff is not for everyone, but everyone can benefit from exposure to development concepts such as object orientation, agile methodology, algorithms, interfaces, etc. In similar fashion to design, even if kids don't end up in a development career, they can learn so much from understanding the thought processes and effort behind all of the technology and applications they (we) use daily. And learning basic coding concepts opens the door to having a better grasp on how technology interacts with us, even seems to anticipate our needs. Technology will only get better and more complex, so the earlier we can give kids exposure to its functions, the better.
Sure these concepts may seem complicated for young minds, but they can be broken down in complexity to suit different age levels. Consider: I took the Dude to a hack-a-thon late last year. He learned about open data, met data set owners, and even designed an app. Not only was he able to grasp the concepts, but he was able to produce some very good user-centered design concepts as a result. (Read his take on the experience!)

And yes, I know that some of this education happens now. But as I said earlier, not all kids from all layers of society benefit equally. Heck, even kids in the same school districts don't benefit equally. Right now, it's up to parents to expose their kids to tech. If the attendance at the Ottawa Mini Maker Faire is any indication, there is plenty of interest in technology education among both parents and kids. 

So, let's do this.

Because until tech education is part of the core curriculum, our kids aren't being set up for success in the information age. And the last thing we want to do is sabotage their futures.