B.C. adds coding to K-12 school curriculum

VANCOUVER -- Students in British Columbia's public elementary schools are on track to become the first generation to get basic training in computer coding as the province answers a call from its thriving tech sector.

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Some children in grades six to nine will begin learning the ABCs of digital technology once the government adds coding to teachers' lesson plans in its modernized curriculum.

Schools will receive the new curriculum in September and the program is slated to be phased in over three years. The goal is to expose all kindergarten to Grade 12 students to coding basics within the next decade.

Premier Christy Clark announced the plan Monday among several initiatives to address a shortage of workers with digital skills that are needed by B.C. tech firms in the government's bid to bolster the knowledge economy.

"You've told us ... you need more talent. We know that's crucial for your success," Clark told about 2,800 delegates at the BCTech Summit.

"Tech companies will locate in places where they can find the people that will be capable of doing the work. We need to start that in our schools."

Specific details, including costs to implement the curriculum changes, weren't revealed as the program remains under development. Government officials said teachers will be given the opportunity to learn about coding during professional development days.

The officials said they looked to jurisdictions including Ontario and Britain as examples in designing the policy, but noted there's no place that's implemented coding long enough to know its results.

So far, the province has spent $500,000 running five coding academies over the past year for post-secondary students and has committed to expanding those camps into the next fiscal year. It also supported a program called Hour of Code for nearly 700 schools last December.

Jeremy Shaki, CEO of Lighthouse Labs, which has held free coding boot camps for citizens, said he would have loved to see the new curriculum delivered last year, but is thrilled by recent progress.

"A lot of people have been banging this door for a couple years now," said Shaki. "By putting it out there, it means they'll have to develop it."

New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have made similar commitments to coding over the past two years, while the United Kingdom made coding a mandatory part of school curriculum in 2014.

New York City announced last fall that all of its public schools will be required to offer computer science to all students, and Chicago is working on a similar initiative.

Melody Ma, a Vancouver web-developer who convinced the government to participate in the Hour of Code, said revising B.C.'s curriculum is great but she has concerns.

"What are the resources on the back-end to actually support this? We haven't heard what those plans are. How are we actually going to make this happen? Not every child in school has access to a computer," she said.

The disparity in resources around the province became clear when Ma helped put on a free coding event at an older high school in Prince George, B.C. Some 100 participating students had to learn offline when they ran out of Internet bandwidth.

Tech firm CEO Alexandra Greenhill is a mother of three girls, ages five to 13, who believes the potential of an entire generation will be undermined if coding is not made a core part of the education system.

She believes savvy policy will find ways, such as implementing a simple card game she invented called "Little Coder" that teaches kids to think like computers.

"We don't teach you language for you to become a poet or English professor," she said. "I don't want my kids to automatically become coders. I want them to know enough about this so they're not intimidated and they can choose to embrace it if they want to."


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