Teach Your Kids How To Code, Not How To Speak Chinese

Computer kid children

Photo: Associated Press

There is a belief among some — perhaps out of fear, or prudence — that children today should study Mandarin Chinese as their second language. If China is going to rule the world in a few decades, at least my kid will be able to communicate.That’s an interesting idea, but the reality is that no matter who is ruling the world, if your kids don’t live in China, their lives are much more likely to involve software than speaking Chinese.

So make sure the second language they study is code.┬áThen their third language can be anything you’d like — Mandarin, Spanish, Latin, French, whatever.

That’s not to say that everyone should become a computer scientist — that’s not practical. But it’s a good idea for everyone to at least understand how computers and software work, and how to write rudimentary code. It can be as simple as HTML, or as complex as C — that part is up to the individual, and the actual languages will change every so often. But a little code is good for everyone.

Why? What’s the point?

Think about how profoundly software has changed industries like, say, communication. The phone in your pocket even 10 years ago was lucky to have a black-and-white display with a built-in game like “Snake”. A decade later, your iPhone screen has more pixels than your old TV, thousands of software applications are a click away, and you can message someone across the world in a second.

Apply that change to every industry, from education — our focus today — to medicine, construction, the arts, etc. And we morph again, from a manufacturing economy to a service economy to a software economy. Again, not everyone will be writing code. But many more people will be ordering it, writing it, managing it, and interacting with it. It makes sense to understand it and to be able to create at least a little.

Personally, I don’t regret spending seven years of my life learning French — it’s cool to be able to say hello and order a croissant in Paris in the local language, before the waiter responds in perfect English.

But I do wish I’d spent at least some of that time instead learning how to write computer software.

As it is, I managed to self-teach myself HTML in the mid-90s, a skill I use every day. But I wish there was a stronger focus on computer engineering in my elementary and high school curriculum, even at the expense of a foreign language.

That’s not to say that people shouldn’t be able to learn Chinese. Various reports — the Economist, the New York Times — have traced the growth of Chinese language programs in American schools. But in reality, it’s not all that practical. See this point-counterpoint from BusinessWeek.

Some of our future will surely involve doing business with Chinese corporations and people. But much more of it will involve science, software, mathematics, and engineering. Software is the real future. So teach your child how to code first — and how to speak Chinese second.

More from The Future of Learning special report:

  • 15 Education And Learning Startups You Need To Know
  • POLL: What Technology Will Change Learning The Most?
  • 5 Charts About The Future Of Learning

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.