By Rasak Musbau
Globally, from elementary school to post-graduate level, students are increasingly getting acquainted with the basics of coding. Coding, in this respect is another name for computer programming. These days, governments, educators and tech industry advocates argue that it has become crucial to hold at least a basic understanding of how the devices that play such a large role in modern life actually work. Computer programming or coding is the process of designing, writing, testing, debugging and maintaining the source code of computer programs. This source code is written in one or more programming languages with the purpose of creating a set of instructions that computers use to perform specific operations or to control something or even for animations. According to computer experts, the knowledge of coding is important not only to individual students’ future career prospects, but also for their countries’ economic competitiveness as well as the ability of technology industry to unearth qualified personnel. In our technologically enhanced world, people with excellent computer skills are most likely to have an edge over their less computer literate colleagues when seeking employment. Currently, the era of using long hand when secretaries are expected to type for their bosses has gone for good. So, possessing a good understanding of a range of computing skills is increasingly important. Consequently, IT skills and capability developed at school are just as important if not more relevant than a good mastery of English and Mathematics. The skill of programming may be complex to learn but a basic knowledge would only be an aid in the technological quest of a nation. In the United States, both Silicon Valley heavyweights and the federal government had backed an initiative called Hour of Code, which promotes computer science and STEM education in the country. In 2014, Singapore introduced programming lessons in its public elementary schools to boost the country’s economy. These two and many others have recognised information technology to be a strategic catalyst for getting competitive advantage for their children and citizens generally. Considering the relevance of computer coding skill in contemporary world, the Lagos State Government in collaboration with organisations such as SystemSpecs, Google, SAP and Praeklt, is planning to progressively introduce software programming classes into public schools. The aim is to give students an opportunity to write code in a classroom setting. Obviously, this is the fence that divides technologically powerful cities and African countries, especially Nigeria in a world that is becoming ever more tech-focused. It is that divide that Lagos State government is making efforts to cross with its recent unveiling of “code Lagos’’ computer programming initiative. This ‘’Code Lagos’’ initiative is part of the bid to make Lagos State a technology frontier, and is also in line with the smart city agenda of the current administration in the state. Speaking recently at the unveiling of the initiative, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, stated that the primary aim of the initiative “is to meet the growing demand for technical skills” so as to develop a workforce that would speak a universal digital language and provide solutions to a myriad of socio-economic problems confronting the society. According to him, with the new concept, Lagos State “has joined the league of technology-compliant nations” that have recognized the importance of harnessing the power of technology for the success of their nations and nation-states. Coming on the heels of another recently initiated programme, tagged Eko n Keko (Lagos is Learning), Lagos State is, no doubt, in a hurry to use education as a veritable tool of socio-economic development. The thinking of the current administration in Lagos State is that the much popular mantra of Itesiwaju Ipinle Eko (The Progress of Lagos State) cannot come to fruition without a solid foundation for children in quality, formal and trending education. Adding coding to the school curriculum is not only a legacy worth bequeathing to our children but a project governments across the nation must of necessity embrace without delay. Beginning from April 2017, Code Lagos centres are to be launched in 500 primary, secondary and tertiary institutions (private and public) across the State, as well as in all public libraries and ICT spaces. There are also plans to enable interested parties log into the Code Lagos website and learn to code at their own pace. For this, the government is set to commit funds to set up over 1,000 coding centers across the state. The ultimate goal is for one million students in the state to have access to the coding system by the year 2019. This is to prepare them for opportunities that would arise, as the state’s technology capacity increases. When fully operational, Code Lagos would, in the short term, enable students to harness, create and leverage on local and global opportunities of the 21st century. While in the long term, it would increase employment and business opportunities in the technology space, thus enhancing the state’s global competitiveness. No one ought to be surprised with the widening of the gap in growth and development between Lagos State and other States in the country as it would continue to be so with execution of the well planned development plans of the State. With a myriad of new initiatives in place, including using technology to drive the economy and infrastructure development of the state, sound PPP model, solar power project and Office of Overseas Affairs and Investment charging investors to key into the various initiatives, it is envisioned that Lagos becoming the technology frontier in Africa is just a matter of a few years. In Nigeria, the challenge doesn’t lie just in developing technical know-how. It’s even more difficult to convince young people that the engineering path is one worth pursuing, especially when opportunities for more prestigious careers in law, finance, or medicine appear out of reach. Once Code Lagos initiative has been sparked there is no telling where it may end. It is well documented that the founders of Microsoft and Facebook had good technical skills and programming ability. These and few other well known personalities can be cited in computer coding classes to encourage our children who, from kindergarten level today, have been made to believe that medicine, law and accounting among others are the limited courses open to them. Musbau writes from Ministry of Information and Strategy, Lagos.