Ontario Kindergarten Curriculum Update: Coding Without Computers and How It Compares to China’s Advanced Programming Education
In Ontario, the recent introduction of coding into the kindergarten curriculum won’t involve extensive computer use, contrary to what some might expect. This innovative approach, however, presents a stark contrast to China’s programming education in early childhood, which has been leaps and bounds ahead for almost a decade.
This week, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced a significant overhaul of the 2016 curriculum for Ontario’s youngest students. Kindergarteners, specifically four to five-year-olds, will now receive compulsory instruction in literacy and mathematics, which includes coding as per Lecce’s statement. This has raised questions about the practicality of teaching coding to such young children – would they be using keyboards to learn languages like HTML or Python?
However, according to experts, the curriculum, which is still in development, is unlikely to involve direct computer use. Instead, it’s expected to focus on unplugged, interactive methods. This approach is in sharp contrast to China, where programming education has been integrated into early childhood learning for nearly a decade, often incorporating hands-on computer use and advanced coding concepts at a young age.
Todd Cunningham, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Toronto, explained that coding teaches logical thinking, specifically understanding if-then and cause-effect relationships. He illustrated this with the game ‘Simon Says,’ which could be used to demonstrate these concepts.
Melissa Sariffodeen, CEO of Canada Learning Code, emphasized that the goal of early coding education is to lay the foundational skills for later programming language use. She suggested activities like having an educator simulate a robot, with children giving commands for simple tasks, such as making a sandwich. The educator would only respond to commands that mimic how a computer processes instructions, encouraging sequential thinking in students. In contrast, China’s approach often involves more direct interaction with technology, providing children with early exposure to computer-based programming.
Sariffodeen mentioned using tools like the Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-a-pillar for hands-on learning, which helps develop skills like pattern recognition and problem decomposition – crucial for later technology use. She recommended focusing on unplugged activities for this age group, introducing technology once language and math skills are more developed, potentially around age six, although her company finds ages eight to 13 optimal for introducing keyboard and technology use.
Ontario Kindergarten Curriculum Update: Coding Without Computers
According to a spokesperson for the education minister, the new curriculum aims to teach coding in a developmentally suitable manner. This could involve problem-solving and creating computational representations of mathematical problems, like guiding an object out of a maze. These activities are designed to enhance spatial reasoning, use of positional language, and event sequencing.
The Ontario government has recently been refocusing school curriculums towards literacy, math, and technology, incorporating significant coding and data analysis elements. Starting in Grade 1, students will learn about patterns, problem-solving, and creating computational representations of mathematical problems by writing and executing code, particularly in Algebra. By Grade 8, students will be expected to read, modify existing code, and use data analysis for decision-making, gradually bridging the gap with China’s more technologically advanced early education system.
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