Technological proficiency or programming fluency?

With our day-to-day lives becoming ever more dependent on technology, learning the basics of what constructs those very conveniences becomes ever more essential. However, demands for students to learn programming by the end of their high school career is an unrealistic expectation.

The need for programmers in the workforce is high, which is the reason behind the debate for mandatory programming classes. Having schools require basic technology courses is a step in the right direction, but there is no need to delve deeper into the specifics of technology’s subgroups. Requiring classes that specifically teach programming can cause its own separate issues. 

With technology rapidly improving, there are always new and more innovative languages being released every decade. Languages like Objective-C, Perl and Visual Basic, released between the early ‘80s and ‘90s, are now outdated, snuffed out by coding languages of the new century. It is no surprise that these languages sound unfamiliar since they have been out of use for nearly two decades. This means that in a few years, more programming languages will be developed, making the languages that high schoolers learn now useless. In addition, new languages being developed would mean that materials, tests and teaching qualifications may become outdated. 

The reason why a year of a technology course, Computer Systems or Career Explorations through Technology, at Diamond Bar High School is required is that they lay the foundation for skills that will prove useful throughout a student’s academic and professional career. These classes do not focus on coding, but, instead, direct their attention toward teaching students how to effectively use industry-standard applications like Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Cloud, or at least the rudimentary aspects of them (Word, Excel, Photoshop and Premiere). Their importance is much akin to the likes of science or math, subjects whose principles supply fundamental skills and become applicable in everyday life.

The same cannot be said about programming. Is it a valuable skill? Absolutely, but not on the same level as science and math. 

Opponents may claim that coding can provide a greater understanding of technology, a much-needed skill in our tech-savvy society or that coding trains the mind in critical thinking or problem-solving. The problem with these claims, despite programming and computer literacy being somewhat related, is that the two are different subjects. Someone can be an efficient computer user, yet not know how to code. Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Cloud have become industry-standard applications, since they are often used in the workspace because of their productivity-focused designs. But, coding has its own separate field and many jobs do not expect their employees to know how to code.

This is not to discredit the many advantages that coding has; for example, it is very flexible and can be used in a variety of jobs that are not based around coding . However, it does not enrich one’s capabilities to use technology—just one’s understanding of its principles. 

Learning how to program is a useful skill for those who want to pursue it in higher education since it can open pathways to many well-paying occupations, but programming is very specialized and not suited for everyone. If coding were to become mandatory, then students who do not want to pursue a career involved with programming would be losing an entire year of class time to a subject that would not be that beneficial to them. 

Programming classes should be made available to those interested but should stay non-compulsory and not burden the academic careers of students who choose not to pursue it.