Got school-aged children? Chances are, your children’s teachers stress the importance of skills like grammar and spelling. After all, reading and writing are still considered two of the basic three Rs, even if most kids can locate an app faster than an adverb. But that focus on conventional literacy could soon shift to a new kind of literacy: the ability to read and write computer code. Are computer skills really the ?grammar of the 21st century??
Yes, if you agree with Ed Vaizey, the UK’s culture minister. In a recent Guardian article, Vaizey notes that ?Just as we write well and read well, I think that if you have even a basic understanding of computer coding, it will help you understand the structure of your digital life.?
That’s not to say traditional literacy should fall by the wayside, and Vaizey stresses that those skills are still essential. But his call for students to move beyond simply using computers and start learning computer code makes sense in our increasingly digital lives.
To ponder this very modern proposition, it helps to look at the roles of traditional literacy. In many cultures, literacy equals power (and always has). These words from Irina Bokova, in a 2010 UNESCO report, refer to women’s literacy, but they also reflect a truth that crosses lines of age and sex: ?Literacy gives women a voice?in their families, in political life and on the world stage. It is a first step towards personal freedom and broader prosperity.?
In other words, if a person can read and write, she can pursue an education, apply for higher-paying jobs, understand contracts, and figure out instructions for everything from prescriptions to her Netflix account.
The language used doesn’t have much to do with it. Whether You’re living in Hong Kong or Paris, being able to read and write is a common currency that allows you to navigate in society. And a large part of an individual’s power comes from access to that currency. As Encyclopædia Britannica Online puts it, a society’s written language can remain ?the possession of an elite,? or ?it can be democratized?that is, turned into a possession of ordinary people.?
With bits and bytes driving everything from our smart phones to our cars, the language of computer code is quickly moving from an elite currency to one in which we should have a basic grounding. After all, we’re not all destined to be poets and professors, but every child in North America is expected to be able to read and write. So why not learn the language that so many of our devices?and repair staff?will increasingly speak to us in?
With 35 courses in Athabasca University’s computer science offerings, along with courses from dozens of other colleges and universities, this could just be the year that Java replaces Spanish on your bucket list.
S.D. Livingston is the author of several booka, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).