Coding: the language we all need to learn

By on 28 Aug 2014

Categories: Tech matters, Development

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Let me begin with a disclaimer: I cannot write computer code and so do not understand the language(s) I am about to write about.

Yet, like everyone else in the Asia Pacific region, my life is increasingly influenced – some might say controlled – by these languages. Citing the HOPL online database of languages, Wikipedia says more than 8,500 programming languages have been developed in English, with at least another 64 or more attributed to other languages. Wikipedia defines a programming language as “a formal, constructed language designed to communicate instructions to a machine, particularly a computer”.

With thousands of different “dialects” and no way to allow humans to communicate directly with each other, some may argue that such codes should not even be considered a language. Yet there are millions of people across Asia who use these codes every day to communicate with computers (who then communicate with us).

So perhaps it was no surprise that the Edutopia website (supported by George Lucas of Star Wars fame) ran a story last October headlined “Should Coding be the ‘New Foreign Language’ Requirement?” in American schools. Written by two Texan educators, the article said: “Over the decades, students have been required to take a foreign language in high school for reasons that relate to expanding communication abilities, furthering global awareness, and enhancing perspective-taking. Recently, our home state of Texas passed legislation that enables computer science to fulfill the high school foreign language requirement.”

The authors went on to describe programming as “the global language, more common than spoken languages like English, Chinese or Spanish.” And yet, they say “less than 2.4 percent of US college students graduate with a degree in computer science.”

Across Asia the story is much the same or even worse. Little data is available in many countries on how many students are being taught coding. But there is some data on what the demand is for those students who do get taught the language of coding in Asian schools.

In short, it’s huge.

A Cisco-sponsored report by IDC released last year said there was shortage of more than 250,000 computer network engineers in the Asia Pacific at the end 2012, and the number was expected to rise to more than 480,000 by 2016.

Responding to this shocking shortage, Singapore has been among the first nations in Asia to jump in and teach computer coding to its children. More should follow.

At APNIC we do our bit by offering training in a number of key areas that play a vital role in ensuring the Internet continues to function across the Asia Pacific region. We don’t teach coding but everyone who comes to our classes needs to understand computer language.

It doesn’t matter what language they speak to each other – whether it’s Mandarin, Hindi, Thai, Bahasa, Japanese or Vietnamese – they all need to know how to speak to a computer.  Perhaps it’s time local students all had the option to learn the language of computers to prepare them for the Asia Pacific of the future.

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The views expressed by the authors of this blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of APNIC. Please note a Code of Conduct applies to this blog.

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