It’s no secret that the technology industry continues to grow by leaps and bounds, as more and more people around the world pick up smart phones, join social networks, and conduct business online. But comparatively few people understand the underlying code that makes all these technologies possible – and technology companies hope to change that with the Hour of Code.
The Hour of Code, started last December, aims to get kids interested in computer science so they can create the iPads, self-driving cars, and Google Glasses of tomorrow. The event is hosted by Code.org, a non-profit supported by schools, local governments, and tech companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple. For this year’s Hour of Code Apple has scheduled free coding classes for kids and adults at its retail stores on December 11. "Education is part of Apple’s DNA,” says Eddy Cue, Apple's senior VP of internet software and services, “and we believe this is a great way to inspire kids to discover technology.”
Leaders of many tech companies argue that coding is as important a skill for students to learn as reading, writing, or math – it’s the basic building block that allows us to create an increasingly interconnected world. To that end, last year’s Hour of Code reached 15 million students, who collectively wrote more than 600 million lines of code in Blockly, a drag-and-drop visual programming language. At the time, news outlets reported that the Hour of Code was the biggest educational event in history. This year, Code.org hopes to get 100 million students to participate in school or in workshops.
There are really two forces driving the Hour of Code. The first is the relatively small number of public schools that teach computer science classes. Code.org’s web site says that even though computer programming jobs are growing at twice the national average, 25 US states don’t allow high school students to count computer science classes toward graduation. The organization hopes to make computer science a main part of K-12 school -- and it appears to be making an impact. In the wake of last year’s event, 14 states made updates to educational policies to give computer science a more prominent role in curricula, and the Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science course was the fastest-growing AP course that year (though, of course, this growth can’t necessarily be traced to the Hour of Code).
The other force behind the Hour of Code is the comparative lack of women in computer programming classes and jobs. The stereotype of computer scientists as geeky white males still persists, and this perception can drive girls away from the field. Code.org wants to help de-stigmatize coding classes for girls, so it’s no surprise that this year’s Hour of Code video features Malala Yousafzai, the famed advocate for girls’ education, who has called upon girls all over the world to participate in the event.
Code.org co-founder Hadi Partovi says the Hour of Code can change the way students think about education: “The Hour of Code, we hope, will continue to spark a creative fire that students might otherwise never discover.” Hopefully some of those students will go on to be the Steve Jobses, the Bill Gateses, and the Mark Zuckerbergs of tomorrow.