Computer science is a foundational science for the Digital Age. It develops students’ computational and critical thinking skills and shows them how to create, not simply use, new technologies. This fundamental knowledge is needed to prepare students for the 21st century, regardless of their ultimate field of study or occupation.

It’s time to stop thinking of computer programming as a specialty subject, but rather that of a fundamental skill. Students don’t think of programming as a whole separate world the way older adults tend to, but as a tool they can use to explore their interests. Coding is just a fundamental tool, the same as English and Math. Moreover, having a basic understanding of how technology actually functions and is developed is becoming important across more and more industries. Thousands of jobs go unfilled each year, as employers cannot find qualified programmers. And it isn’t just about filling programming jobs, but rather software has disrupted every industry; from agriculture to finance. Programming allows students to take something from an idea and transform it into a real product.

“It helps kids turn into builders and creators and producers.”

In a recent Financial Post article, Halifax-based entrepreneur Jevon MacDonald supported computer programming as more than just a vocational skill, but rather a foundational one. “Teaching it to children will help boost the future economy,” he says. “It’s important to teach kids to program because that’s the thing we can do now that will have a high net impact 20 years from now.” We need to start developing technology skills rather than relying on natural resources, said Mr. MacDonald, who sold his software startup GoInstant last year to U.S.-based Salesforce for a reported $70-million. “It helps kids turn into builders and creators and producers.”

Canada ranks 23rd for the percentage of people in science and technology-related occupations, according to the OECD’s 2011 Science and Technology Scoreboard. The United States ranks 12th. Even Estonia, a tiny country of 1.3 million people, ranked 16th. Estonia is now teaching computer programming to children from grades 1 through 12. In China every student learns computer programming, however in North America only 5% do.

The tools are available. MIT produces a free education tool called Scratch, which teaches young children to program using graphical tools. Tynker is a cloud-based teaching system aimed at elementary and middle-school students. Code.org features lesson plans for teachers — or parents — who want to get their children coding.

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