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Hour of Code

Over the weekend I took part in ‘Hour of Code’, a global initiative designed to get school students involved in computer coding – and one which has had a strong response in Australia. It has been designed as an introduction to computer science, “to demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics,” the organisers say.

The event enjoyed a high-profile start last week when US President Barack Obama launched the 2014 Hour of Code, learning a few lines of Javascript. Since then, other celebrity endorsements have come in, including pop singer Shakira and actor (and technology aficionado) Ashton Kutcher. But beyond the famous faces backing the initiative, the real measure of its success can be found in the number of participants: at last count, Hour of Code had seen more than 70 million people around the world spend an hour of their time performing some basic computer coding tasks.

It’s an impressive response, and one I hope to see grow in future years. As I recently wrote in the Ericsson Business Review, governments around the world are looking at how to configure their education systems to equip students with the right skills to be productive in the digital economy. Making STEM (science, technology, education and maths) subjects more attractive and relevant to students is central to this goal. Countries such as the UK and Vietnam have already introduced coding into their school curriculum, and the Abbott Government has made clear that we want to see more Australian students taking on STEM subjects from an early age.

In October this year the Abbott Government announced an additional $12 million for initiatives aimed at increasing the focus on STEM subjects in primary and secondary schools. Along with $3.5 million in funding to go directly to computer coding, the initiative also aims to increase student participation in the ‘Summer schools for STEM students’ programme, with a focus on girls, disadvantaged and Indigenous students and those living in regional and remote areas.

The need for a national focus on STEM education was highlighted by Atlassian Co-Founder and CEO Scott Farquhar when he presented the 2014 JJC Bradfield Lecture. Scott called Australia’s education system “the most important priority long-term” if Australia is to capitalise on the software revolution which is disrupting industry after industry. He said:

“We must give our kids the opportunity to learn programming concepts as early as possible as during their primary and secondary studies. Some may say that not everyone will be a programmer. And that’s true. Not everyone who learns English goes on to be a poet. But we teach English because communication is a fundamental skill! Similarly, computing is a fundamental skill for surviving in a software world.”

It’s a notion which I wholeheartedly endorse.

The ‘Hour of Code’ initiative is formally running from December 8-14, in line with the US Computer Science Education week. I encourage you to give it a try.  Scott Farquhar’s journey from tinkering with programming in his bedroom to running a multi-billion dollar company began with learning the basics – perhaps Hour of Code could be the starting point for some other Australian software success stories.