Counting on coding

Thursday, 22 December 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

It was confirmed this week that as of 2017 coding would be introduced into the national school curriculum as part of a wider pivot towards Sri Lanka becoming a regional ICT hub. The ‘All Children All Coding’ initiative will see the development of a comprehensive coding curriculum to cover both primary and secondary school students, where an estimated 200 teachers and 7,000 students are expected to be trained and taught in the first year.

The move is in line with some of the more progressive education trends globally, where coding has been identified as a key skill in the digital economy of the future (and present). In fact, an increasing number of companies (IT related and otherwise) globally have acknowledged that potential employees with a background in coding are much likelier to be hired than their non-coding brethren.

One of the most prominent proponents of this shift is the United Kingdom, where coding was introduced into the curriculum in 2014. The idea according to the UK’s Department of Education was to “ensure every child leaves school prepared for life in modern Britain”. 

It is this sort of holistic approach to education that the government of Sri Lanka was seemingly keen to project when several bigwigs at various occasions over the course of the last year stated their desire to create a knowledge-based economy. Yet the words fail to reconcile with the reality, as questions continue to be asked about the consistency in government policy across the board in achieving these goals. 

Internet usage in Sri Lanka at present stands at 28%, and Minister Harin Fernando has spoken of getting “more people using the internet, more frequently” as one of his biggest ministerial challenges.” However a roughly 25% tax levied on mobile telecommunications services such as data, this on top of the VAT being imposed on telecom companies – the burden of which also trickles down to the consumer – seems to contradict this stated Government policy.

The other point of concern is the halving of the education budget for 2017. 500,000 tablets are due to be handed out in the coming year, and along with the proposed introduction of coding into the curriculum, this should theoretically put Sri Lanka at the forefront of modern education. However, even in the UK there has been a backlash from teachers who are struggling to grasp the very subject matter that they are now expected to teach. If Sri Lanka, a country with far less resources, is to incentivise their own teachers to take up and learn what is essentially a new language in coding, then it would be fitting to see that they are remunerated accordingly. Drastic reductions in the education budget does not bode well for this endeavour.

On the whole, this it seems is yet another example of the present regime’s ad-hoc approach to decision making and policy management. A focus on coding has the potential to put Sri Lanka at the forefront of the global digital economy and e-commerce – and is certainly an idea that should be applauded – but its success, like many of the other ambitious projects put forth by this Government, hinges on whether adequate supporting infrastructure is in place to carry it through to the end.