A group of Istanbul children are about to graduate from a special coding course as part of a new project to build digital skills in Turkey.
More than 3,000 children, aged between 7 and 12, have participated in the project; the first group of students will graduate in June.
The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has been conducting a pilot project, surfing on the notion that digital thinking skills are becoming ever more important in each aspect of daily life.
"We are surrounded by electronic devices controlled by computers and each computer has been encoded," Samed Agirbas, the municipality’s youth deputy and the manager of the project “Coding Istanbul”, told Anadolu Agency.
Agirbas stated that the project did not directly aim to train the software professionals of the future. However, it gave children an appreciation of what can be created with technology.
"Although every mobile application, game, website, and piece of software is created with code, we usually know nothing about how to code even one simple program," Agirbas said.
Coding -- computer programing -- is telling a computer what you want it to do, i.e. typing a set of commands for the computer to follow.
As some anti-addiction NGOs argue that children spend too much time on the computer, the municipality said it wanted to canalize children's interests to the right fields.
This is the first time in Turkey that any public body has run a coding course for primary school children.
The manager said: "It can be considered as a considerable step for the country."
A recent report has shown that 14 other European countries have now included coding in their school curriculum. Finland announced that it would integrate coding lessons into the curriculum this year.
The members of the municipality's youth council, which consists of university and high schools students have started the project as "youth-led movement" in December 2015.
The project includes four full days of coding trainings plus two full-day visits to municipal software units such as the traffic control center of the city -- three weekends in total.
Over 15 computer and software engineers teach voluntarily in the municipality's two training centers located in the city's European side, Taksim and Fatih.
Besides, the municipality created a special bus -- designed as a classroom -- for disadvantaged children living in Istanbul's rural areas, as "this is also social inclusion project", Agirbas stressed.
After the three weeks of training, the children are expected to continue learning online with the trainers following their improvements periodically.
Agirbas acknowledged that the length of the course could be considered as too short.
"However, the understanding of how to express ideas that a computer can play tasks accurately is more important than the details of the coding language," he said.
Code.org, a U.S. based non-profit organization that aims to encourage school students to learn computer science says that learning to code develops skills such as problem solving, and creativity.
Moreover, the European Union estimated last week that there could be up to 825,000 unfilled vacancies for ICT (information and communications technology) professionals by 2020.
The EU’s multi-stakeholder partnership initiative, Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs, also claimed that in near future, 90 percent of jobs would require some level of digital skills.
The 28-country bloc encourages the member states to apply coding lessons for pupils.
Therefore, Agirbas stated that there was a plan for the coding project to be expanded to all provinces of the country through the Turkish Association of Municipalities.
The Istanbul municipality hopes to reach at least 40,000 children by next September.
By Ilker Girit
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