But teachers must be well educated in programming to ensure it’s taught effectively, says SAPO GM

Children should be taught to code ‘when they start school’

Computer programming needs to be taught from an early age so children understand how to create rather than how to use ready-made software, says SAPO GM Celso Martinho.

Speaking to Develop, Martinho, GM of Portuguese internet firm SAPO, which runs an annual hackathon called Codebits each year, said children can start learning to code as early as their first or second year at school (ages six and seven).

He praised the UK’s upcoming computer science curriculum aimed at teaching students to program, but warned teachers would need to be well educated in the subject, and that may have to come from learning the basics themselves.

Martinho used the example of Portugal, where he believes many older teachers do not have enough knowledge of how to code to teach it effectively.

“Starting coding young is a priority and that’s why we have worked on projects such as Scratch,” said Martinho.

“From our experience we know that youngsters in first or second grade are able to easily create their own programs if given the right guidance and tools. This also ingrains them with the concept that computers can do what you want them to do and not just what is made available on them by someone else.

“Teachers are equally important, though. They need to have enough knowledge of computers to support their students. In Portugal a lot of older teachers were simply not comfortable using computers and so they would shy from promoting the use of computers in the classroom.

“Initiatives in the UK, such as the new computing curriculum that will see primary school pupils taught programming from this September, are on the right track to tackle this. However, teachers need the right knowledge to be able to teach this information and some will have to go and learn the basics for themselves so that they can teach it. Encouraging schools to work with local businesses in this sector would be a fun and interactive way to teach coding.”

The annual Codebits hackathon in Portugal was formed seven years ago, and overtime has begun to focus on promoting programming to people of all ages and help revive the country’s game industry.

Martinho said Portugal was beginning to see a resurgence in game development, and hoped the event could educate enthusiasts and show that developers can create games anywhere, even in a country where a game industry is “virtually inexistent”.

“The game development industry in Portugal was very active during the eighties, with the ZX Spectrum, it was very popular here,” he said.

“This faded in later years, with rising development costs and higher barriers for distribution. There were some companies working on multimedia CDs for the local market and others developing casual titles for websites specialising in downloadable games. But there was only a few companies doing this.

“Today, with the growth of digital stores such as Apple’s App Store or Steam Greenlight and the availability of cheap, high quality game engines and tools, it is again possible to create a game without huge costs and distribute it to a larger audience.

“We are seeing a lot of small game development teams that are not just creating games for fun but actually tackling the international market and trying to establish themselves.

“Part of our focus at Codebits this year was precisely to show people that, even in a country where a games industry is virtually inexistent, it is possible to create your game and make a sound commercial project with it. There are more and more people doing that right now. We are encouraging people to publish their games.”

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