An entrepreneurial spirit
My son, when he was eight, had an idea. Seeing the leftover fairy wings, tiaras and wands from his little sister’s birthday party he was concerned about the waste – both in terms of landfill and money. What to do? On his own initiative, he gathered up all the pink fairy items, photographed them and created his own micro business – a website selling ‘Curious Little Things’. The takings are donated to charity. What’s interesting is how he connected a problem with a solution and had the ability to make it happen.
As a computer scientist and teacher running creative coding camps for children, I’ve realised that we’re able to challenge them more than we perhaps expect. I’ve always believed that the benefit of kids learning to code is not about learning individual languages (which may be obsolete by the time our students reach secondary school let alone university or the world of work) but about becoming fluent in computational thinking and honing an entrepreneurial mindset.
I’m a self-confessed serial entrepreneur and have founded three startups. I’ve frequently adopted this framework of thinking. The entrepreneurial mindset is exemplified by our behaviours: we think on our feet, we road-test ideas, we sometimes fail, and we try again. We develop resilience, we present our ideas, we pitch to investors, we create, and we solve problems. Yet these aren’t just qualities people need to know to succeed in business – they are also the qualities that young people will need to have to be successful in the future.
The entrepreneurial mindset is exemplified by our behaviours: we think on our feet, we road-test ideas, we sometimes fail, and we try again.
Computational thinking as a life skill
It is these very qualities I believe that can be nurtured through the discipline of code – nurturing a mindset that gives them the courage and curiosity to try things out, get creative, and identify various ways in which to solve a problem. The beauty of code and computational thinking is that there is always more than one way to address an issue, embracing a variety of creative solutions.
Important to my practice is fostering a sense of inclusivity – that coding is for everyone. It’s useful to see coding as an artistic medium through which creativity can be expressed. When coding is positioned and thought about in this sense, children get very excited because the possibilities are endless. Non-techie kids can see how it is applied to create jewellery, lifestyle gadgets, their favourite sport, health and wellbeing, and they begin to appreciate its relevance in the world today and in the future when they become adults.
Coding for all abilities
It’s also inclusive to kids with all sorts of learning abilities. Children who have challenging learning differences often have more mental health challenges and their sense of self-worth can be affected by their performance in traditional academic subjects. While recent research suggests that the thought processes and patterns of people with dyslexia are hugely helpful in more creative fields, I can say, from my own experience, that it does create challenges in a traditional educational system. Learning to code is especially good for kids that may have trouble with traditional subjects because the practice of failing and trying again is valued rather than marked down.
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Encouraging children to embrace computational thinking and adopt this entrepreneurial mindset can help them feel that they can take control of their destinies. They can begin to grasp the fast-moving tech world, see how they can make a difference and become empowered with the tools to innovate. I believe it can give children a greater sense of wellbeing, self-confidence, balance and optimism.
And what makes that sense of wellbeing even greater? When they can say that their actions have done some good. Children are highly sensitive to the big events that dominate their world and are frustrated that they don’t seem to be able to do anything. Climate change, the Attenborough effect, plastic pollution, coral reef destruction and wildlife habitat erosion all enter our children’s awareness daily. Empowering them with the ability and determination to do something positive really does increase their inner strength. I’m constantly impressed by the ingenuity and unhindered idea generation that kids will demonstrate once they feel they have permission to have a go, fail and try again, a sense of purpose and a supportive, nurturing environment in which to operate.
Is a child ever too young to become an entrepreneur or hone the entrepreneurial mindset? I don’t think so. Coding, I believe, is one of the most genuinely inclusive mediums through which this can be achieved. Marrying a technical ability with creativity and a sense of social purpose will see the next generation of innovators develop ideas to solve the world’s most pressing human problems today.