In a growing number of Hong Kong schools, “coding” has become the literacy lingo of choice. For those confused by the world of computer science, code is the written instructions we give to a computer to perform a task at any given moment. As contemporary society grapples with the promise of an increasingly automated lifestyle, and the industry urges government to respond by educating the population in the ‘language’ of computers, coding has risen to prominence in curricula globally.
“We think that this is something all children, particularly young children, should be taught,” said Dr Robin Lister, Headmaster of Malvern College Hong Kong (MCHK), in an interview with Top Schools. “The 21st century is going to be increasingly dominated by IT, computers and robots, and we have to prepare our children for this. One of the best ways of doing this is to teach them coding, and young children adapt to the demands of IT very easily.”
Hong Kong hit the global tech headlines last month when ‘Sophia’, a humanoid, social robot designed by a Hong Kong robotics company, appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and was granted citizenship by the Saudi Arabian government. MCHK’s Dr Lister says our workplace and home lives are going to be increasingly dominated by robots, and coding is one way to enter this ‘new world’, of which Hong Kong wants a part.
MCHK which is set to open in September 2018, will inherit the strong science heritage from its mother school, Malvern College, in the UK. Malvern College produced three Nobel Prize winners in science and pioneered the adoption of the Nuffield Science teaching approach.
Malvern College, which will open its Hong Kong campus in September 2018, lays claim to three Nobel Prize winners in science, and has long advocated a practical approach to the science disciplines. “Here it is taught by ‘doing science’ in the labs rather than by simply reading textbooks,” says Dr Lister. “As part of our curriculum, we also hope to give children the opportunity to spend time in the Science Park – where they should be given further opportunities to build and program their own robots.”
The school has collaborated with the BSD Academy of Code and Design to create a curriculum that brings coding to the forefront of the student experience. “Coding is about taking complex problems and translating them into simple instructions so that they can be processed by a computer,” explains Mr. Mohammed S. Qureshi, the UX and Curriculum Director, from the BSD Code and Design Academy, “This process of breaking down any problem into tiny intelligible pieces that can therefore be understood and solved, leads to a natural computational mindset for children, making them ‘computational thinkers’. Not all students will become software engineers; however, we know that all of them will need to be highly effective problem-solvers and be able to design solutions that people can use, whatever career they pursue.”
While the tangible benefits of coding mastery are well documented – future job readiness, tech literacy, potentially lucrative salaries – the intangible benefits are only now beginning to be better understood. “Coding leads to creativity, building a natural tendency for children to develop curiosity for the world around them and work in teams,” says Mr Qureshi. “It is not just part of a computer class. It has a place in every classroom, whatever the context. A broad cross-curricular presence of technology means that all students begin to think computationally in the contexts that most connect with their interests. Through this, it becomes an inclusive part of their everyday experience of work, both individually and in teams, and the natural outlet for the communication and development of their ideas so critical for their futures.”
While the lure of the screen is undoubtedly powerful, Dr Robin Lister is conscious of not allowing students to become stuck indoors. To this end, Malvern College Hong Kong incorporates an award-winning Forest School program that has had critical success in the UK. “Our Forest School is almost an antidote to class-based teaching,” says Dr Lister. “Young children need the chance to learn about nature, in nature. Giving children – particularly urban children – the opportunity to get their feet and hands dirty, build dens, splash in puddles, explore streams, and even build fires with adult guidance, gives them fantastic opportunities to learn about the environment whilst building their confidence, giving them the experience of team-building and leadership roles. Learning happens most easily through a child’s natural inquisitiveness.”
Human curiosity: harnessed by nature and expressed through code. I wonder what ‘Sophia’ thinks of that?