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Why Every Child Should Learn to Code

As EU Code Week draws to a close, Discovery Education’s Andrew Tidswell explores why coding is an essential part of children’s learning.

Pupils at St Swithun Wells Catholic Primary School in Hillingdon

As the education world continues to settle after the impact of COVID19, educators are focused on how to move forward into the post-pandemic landscape. In many instances, this means addressing student’s instructional loss, or the gaps in a child’s expected age-related understanding.

One way to address instructional loss is to increase the range of learning opportunities and focus these on building skills which help students to acquire knowledge. These may include the use of the 4Cs (Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity and Collaboration) and forms of authentic problem solving, supported by the use of technology in a ‘digitally literate’ environment.

In our digitally connected world, it has been argued that Coding and especially Computational Thinking have become essential skills that will support the acquisition of knowledge. Indeed, as Jeannette Wing of Colombia University says, “Computational Thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing, and arithmetic, we should add computational thinking to every child’s analytical ability.”[1]

We can therefore perhaps consider a range of opportunities for using and developing these skills as part of our work to address instructional loss. 

Computational Thinking skills can be developed by following coding courses and developing apps, for example using Discovery Education’s own Coding service. Let’s look at the ‘Four Pillars of Computational Thinking’ and consider how these can be developed through coding and then applied away from the computer. 

These ‘pillars’ are defined as:

  • Decomposition – breaking down a complex problem into smaller, more manageable parts
  • Pattern recognition – looking for similarities among and within problems
  • Abstraction – focusing on the important information only, ignoring irrelevant detail
  • Algorithms – developing a step-by-step solution or the rules to follow to solve a problem

All these skills do relate back to coding and app development and if children can design, build, and share authentic apps, they will be given plenty of opportunities to develop these skills. At Discovery Education we believe that learning, especially in coding, should be structured to promote creativity. Providing scaffolded opportunities to understand coding principles and develop apps, means that children have to use all four of the ‘Pillars’ regularly. 

Providing clear expectations of what an app should achieve helps children to decompose the problem into manageable steps. These steps can then help them to develop their abstraction skills by focusing in on relevant details as they create their solution. Whilst pattern recognition can be supported through opportunities to use and apply previous learning to enhance their new solutions, a well-structured brief for the app enables the children to become adept at creating their own algorithms to solve problems. Once children recognise that algorithm + code = app they can become very independent in creating real solutions. 

The development of these skills through coding is also interwoven with the use of the 4Cs, which enhances children’s broader problem-solving abilities. Problem-solving, creativity and communication skills are very much in demand in the workplace and are at the heart of developing a well-rounded learner who is prepared for a successful future.

Skills focused learning is also a cornerstone of acceleration when aiming to close gaps for children in developmentally appropriate ways. Computational Thinking, developed through coding and applied across the curriculum, in conjunction with other skills, can make a significant impact on children’s ability to master curriculum content. As Suzy Pepper Rollins says in her book ‘Learning in the Fast Lane’, “Acceleration …strategically prepares students for success in the present—this week, on this content.”  [2]

Having begun my teaching career as a PE specialist, I have always recognised the value of regular physical activity in school and its impact on learning. I, therefore, see coding as being part of children’s ‘intellectual fitness regime’ – giving them the chance to use and develop their ‘thinking muscles’ in varied and motivating ways. Which then means they are more able to face challenges and solve problems effectively, right across the curriculum. 

Let us, therefore, ensure that coding is an essential part of children’s learning and a fundamental part of a broad and balanced curriculum. It enhances their ability to learn, make connections and solve problems across the curriculum, which prepares them for successful futures.

[1] Computational Thinking, Jeannette Wing :

[2] Learning in the Fast Lane, Suzy Pepper Rollins, ASCD, 2014. 

2 Replies to “Why Every Child Should Learn to Code”

  1. Allen Tsui says:

    Too right Andrew! Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you for making such a clear and concise case for the importance of teaching and learning programming.

  2. ATidswell says:

    Thanks Allen. It is so important to raise the profile of thinking in learning. As Tony Wagner says “The world no longer cares what children know as knowledge is a commodity, they can look it up. The world cares about what children can DO with what they know, which is an entirely different education problem.”
    Creating opportunities for children to develop these sorts of skills is the essential mission of modern educators. Focusing on Computational Thinking, the 4Cs, problem solving (or solution seeking as we prefer to call it) Design Thinking etc all mean that children can not only develop scaffolds of knowledge but the ability to DO something with it.
    For more on Wagners work see

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Andrew Tidswell is Director of Professional Development at Discovery Education.

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