Kids coding languages: Why is today's Google Doodle so important?

You can learn to make your own Doodle, eventually

Andrew Griffin
Monday 04 December 2017 09:58
Google Doodle celebrates kids coding language

Google Doodles are often challenging, fun and help illuminate the ideas and people that have changed the world. But today's homepage celebrates something even more fundamental than normal.

The Doodle centres on coding – helping children to learn the languages that power the site and its homepage itself. And it even lets people do some of that themselves, helping teach some coding basics.

It is just one of the various projects by Google and its competitors like Apple that is intended to allow children to code. And it's something the companies say is necessary not only for their own work but for the future of the world.

The game celebrates the beginning of Google's Computer Science Education Week. That's just one of the projects run by the technology industry, which also include the Hour of Code.

And it does so by guiding children through the process of learning to code, which it hopes will just be the beginning of that work. Kids play the game and gradually put together the kind of thinking and understanding that is needed to build the tech products of the future.

In doing so, it uses a very similar technique to Apple's Swift Playgrounds app. In that, children (or adults) also make their way through a 3D world, navigating it using coding skills.

Many tech companies argue that learning to code will be profoundly important in years to come, since so much work is going to involve computers and automation. Learning it also fosters other skills, the companies argue – since it gives people transferrable tools like logical thinking.

That was the argument made by Champika Fernando, who worked on the project to build Scratch at MIT. That's a programming language built specifically for children, containing all the fundamental principles but not scaring them with too much complicated terminology.

"With today’s Doodle – the first coding Doodle ever – we celebrate fifty years of coding languages for kids by “Coding for Carrots.” In the interactive Doodle, you program and help a furry friend across 6 levels in a quest to gather its favorite food by snapping together coding blocks based on the Scratch programming language for kids," she said.

"Like Logo, Scratch was developed at MIT and builds on Papert’s early ideas about kids and computers. It’s designed to be less intimidating than typical programming languages, but just as powerful and expressive.

"Kids programming on computers must have sounded futuristic and impractical in the 1960’s when Logo was first created. In fact, even in the 1980’s when I wrote my first lines of code, my working-class parents questioned how coding would ever benefit their nine-year-old daughter.

"Today, computers are used in almost every aspect of our lives. We have them in our homes, at work, and in our pockets. My early experiences with computers gave me confidence that I could create with new technologies, not just interact with them. Those early experiences not only influenced my career path, but provided me with new ways to express my ideas and influence the world around me."

It's an idea that spreads across the tech industry. Apple boss Tim Cook, for instance, has said that learning to code and discovering programming languages could be more important than learning English as a second language.

"If I were a French student and I were 10 years old, I think it would be more important for me to learn coding than English. I'm not telling people not to learn English in some form - but I think you understand what I am saying is that this is a language that you can [use to] express yourself to seven billion people in the world," Mr Cook said in an interview with Konbini earlier this year.

"I think that coding should be required in every public school in the world."

But others have argued that coding is just the beginning, and pushing computer science onto all children might lead to deficiencies everywhere else. Working with computers doesn't necessarily mean you have to understand their fundamental languages, they say.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments