News / Toronto

Should computer programming courses be mandatory for Canadian students?

A recent poll found 80 per cent of Canadians believe students should learn computer programming skills in school, causing some to question whether our education system is doing enough to equip youth for the 21st century.

The survey was conducted by Ipsos Reid on behalf of the Canadian Internet Registration Association. The vast majority of those surveyed felt teaching young Canadians digital literacy today means a stronger economy tomorrow.

"Canadians have high expectations for the value of the Internet to Canada's social and economic fabric," said David Fowler, director of marketing for CIRA.

Kathryn Meisner, director of the Mozilla Hive project in Toronto, believes the results of the survey show school boards need to better integrate computers into the classroom.

"It's starting to be taught in some schools, but there's more demand than can be met," she said.

At present, computer programming electives are offered at most secondary schools in Ontario, said Ministry of Education spokesman Gary Wheeler.

"It shouldn't just be for the kids who enroll in a computer science class," replied Meisner. "It should be included on an everyday basis."

Jennifer Turliuk, co-president of MakerKids in Toronto, agrees.

MakerKids offers after-school technology programs for children. Turliuk said many of her clients are parents who feel their kids aren't getting enough computer training in school.

"It should really be mandated from the provincial or even federal level and embedded right into the curriculum," Turliuk said.

In Toronto, the public school board has created the Digital Lead Learners program, a volunteer network of teachers dedicated to replacing chalk boards with circuit boards.

"It's an essential part of student learning. I see a higher level of engagement with technology than I do with paper and pencil," said Adrienne Rigler, who teaches Grades 4 and 5 at Ryerson Community School.

Rigler lets her students complete their homework using Google Docs, and has introduced her students to Scratch, a program created at MIT that teaches young people basic programming skills.

Unlike Turliuk, Rigler doesn't believe the provincial curriculum needs to change. Instead, she wants more funding for computers, especially for schools in less affluent areas.

"The only thing we're limited by is resources," she said.

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