Computer coding and programming have been in the news of late, mostly in regards to young children, some as young as 4 years old, starting to learn to code and write their own short programs. Many coding apps and programs around the World have been set up, some of the best known are Scratch Jr (https://www.scratchjr.org/), Coding 4 Fun (https://www.code4fun.com.au/), and Code Camp (https://www.codecamp.com.au/). Japan makes some of the best hardware in the World, but is failing in the software department1. Japanese students are now in catch-up mode with their counterparts all around the World in regards to computer use, and need to be started off young on computers in order to develop an interest in coding and programming. Programming is a highly desired skill in the Japanese workforce now, and there is a chance to provide the future programmers to the workforce if we act now.
Image source: Scratch Jr website, <https://www.scratchjr.org/>.
What has caused Japan to fall behind? Lack of imagination, that is really it. Schools in Japan are well behind the developing World for I.T training, students do not get the required time to work out how to use computers, essays for junior and senior high schools are still handwritten, and teachers do not have the skills and competency required to use computers other than for the most basic tasks. In 2016, a directive was introduced to make coding a compulsory subject in school (Verma 2016). This failed due to the inability to provide schools with competent I.T teachers who could understand and teach basic coding. Japan is about to drop 400 billion on new computers for schools2. There has never been a better time for schools to start coding courses, even if only as school clubs.
Image source: Verma, A 2016, Japan Just Made Computer Programming A Compulsory Subject In Its Schools, <https://fossbytes.com/japan-computer-programming-compulsory-subject-schools/>.
The first thing to note is that future coders and programmers need to speak English. The World of coding means that one coder can be in Argentina and the other in Mumbai, and no matter how hard the Japanese try, they will not convince the best coders and programmers around the World to learn Japanese in order to work in Japan, so the first order of business is to write courses that help build up the language skills required to become World-class programmers. The first coding training programs in Japan were all in Japanese, and that is no problem if future programmers are to work only with Japanese, but the World is changing and in 15 years it will be the case that Japanese programmers and coders will be working with much different people compared to themselves. Programming is also written in English, and so it is vital to bring the skill level in English up at the same time coding is being taught.
In order to use English as the medium for instruction in Japan, English language based training programs are being slowly introduced. These plans include teacher lesson plans, presentations, and handouts. Students will first go through what is called ‘Pilot School’, where they learn the language required to complete the task. Students then move on to the computers, where they complete the coding exercise on their computer. They show competence by not just completing the short coding task, but also by explaining in English what they have been able to accomplish. Parents will love this as they will see it as a two-for-one; not only are their children using English, they are also developing life-long computer skills that will be transferable to employment opportunities in the future.
Image source: SAS 2017, Why Kids Need Coding and Debunking the Myths, <https://blogs.sas.com/content/sascp/2017/08/10/what-is-coding-and-why-do-kids-need-it/>.
With some effort, programming training businesses can cooperate to provide training programs to schools and ALT dispatch companies. As coding and teaching coding is a highly specialized field, it needs to be managed and maintained by highly competent professionals, and so it will be vital to ensure the training programs made available to contracted companies are written by people who understand how to teach coding and English. This will get the project of coding in schools off to the right start as help and support from highly qualified and competent professionals will be made available to those who may not have the experience required to teach coding, which has been holding the objective of programming in schools back.
- Anchordoguy, A 2000, Japan’s software industry: a failure of institutions?, Research Policy, vol. 29, no. 3, <https://doi.org/10.1016/S0048-7333(99)00039-6>.
- Japan Times, 2019, Japan to drop ¥400 billion on school computers and infrastructure projects in wake of tax hike, <https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/11/22/business/japan-drop-400-billion-school-computers-infrastructure-projects-wake-tax-hike/>.