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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

UAE schools need to offer the 'language of the future' in regular lessons

Coding is used to give computers instructions and is required for many jobs in technology

There are compelling reasons to teach coding in UAE school, experts say. Silvia Razgova / The National
There are compelling reasons to teach coding in UAE school, experts say. Silvia Razgova / The National

Schools across the UAE must teach coding as part of regular lesson plans if the country is to compete internationally, experts have said.

Teachers warned that focusing on the subject as merely an extra-curricular activity risked ignoring how significant the speciality had become.

Speaking earlier last week, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, described modern coding as “the language of the future”.

Coding is used to tell a computer what to do in various situations and is the building blocks of informational technology and artificial intelligence.

Omar Farooqui, founder of Dubai-based Coded Minds, said many schools in the Emirates still appeared reluctant to accept the subject as mainstream.

“Both coding and robotics are still taken as vocational rather than mainstream subjects,” said Mr Farooqui.

“This needs to change dramatically and quickly. They should become part of the national curriculum.

“Even the premium schools in the UAE – despite the fees they are charging – do not meet the international standards these subjects should be taught at.”

On Monday, Sheikh Mohammed attended a graduation ceremony for 250 students who took part in an ongoing scheme to boost computer programming skills in the Gulf.

The One Million Arab Coders initiative aims to ensure one million Arabs are taught virtual coding techniques during the next three years.

“Coding is the language of the future and one of its key tools,” Sheikh Mohammed said. “New technologies are the fastest way to create new opportunities for our youth.”

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On Thursday, Mr Farooqui, whose firm specialises in teaching coding to children, set out his vision for how learning the skill should be addressed.

He revealed his company – which is already teaching children as young as three – is currently working on a pilot project at a primary school where the subject is incorporated into the class schedule. He is also teaching extra-curricular lessons at 20 other schools across Dubai.

“For three-year-olds, coding teaches them critical thinking, logic and problem-solving skills,” he said. “Even if they don’t want to be a software engineer, it can help them in other areas.

“Children can play, learn and introduce their parents to coding.”

Omar Farooqui, founder of Coded Minds, is employing teachers under 25 to train up kids in coding. Pawan Singh / The National
Omar Farooqui, founder of Coded Minds, is employing teachers under 25 to train children in coding. Pawan Singh / The National

Jim Stearns, deputy principal at Victoria International School of Sharjah, which follows an Australian curriculum, said all schools had a duty to ensure lessons stayed relevant, keeping apace with modern technologies and practices.

He noted that in the UAE, government ministers were particularly focused on the importance of innovation, even launching a national innovation strategy in 2014.

But as to whether schools needed to make coding lessons mandatory, he was unconvinced.

“Coding has really taken off and is incorporated in some curriculums globally,” he said.

“The shift started happening about five years ago and the Australian curriculum is one of the first to incorporate it about two to three years ago.

“It’s being adopted by curriculums around the world, but do we need every child leaving school to be a coding expert?”

Simon Corns, headmaster at Brighton College Abu Dhabi, also said he believed it was critical children were equipped them with the best possible skills to deal with the modern workplace.

He said his school taught logic structures – a simple form of coding – to its youngest year group, and introduced more advanced ideas as they progressed.

“Whether people learn to code or not, the holistic approach to education is important,” he said. “A balance of approaches and stimuli is also crucial.”