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What is text-based programming and why is it important for kids?

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What is text-based programming and why is it important for kids?

Ofsted have recently released a subject review of the computing curriculum, and it has raised some interesting questions about the importance of text-based programming and the way in which coding is taught in schools. So what is text-based programming? Why is it important for kids to learn this skill? And what is the difference between text-based and visual-based coding? Read on to find out more.

What did Ofsted's subject review say about computing in schools?

Ofsted's subject review of the computing curriculum concluded that schools have some way to go to ensure children leave formal education with the skills they need to thrive in a digital world. Firstly, it concluded that a low number of specialist teachers and a lack of teaching time allocated to computing "will have significant consequences for the quality of education that pupils receive in computing if nothing is done to remedy the situation".

The review also highlighted the significance of pupils learning "important programming knowledge to enable them to become skilful programmers". This includes learning programming languages that are not only chosen to meet curriculum goals, but can help children "build a mental model of program execution", i.e. have a better understanding of what a program will do once it's run.

What is text-based programming?

Text-based programming involves typing lines of code that tell computers what task to perform. It involves writing words, phrases, numbers and symbols in a certain order, so it makes sense to the computer - just like spelling and grammar in any other language. Learning text-based programming languages helps children understand the importance of syntax and how it affects an outcome. Text-based programming languages differ from visual-based (or block) programming in that they require you to write (and understand) lines of code, rather than simply dragging and dropping blocks to create your program. The best-known, text-based coding languages, are Python, Java, CSS/HTML, JavaScript, Swift, and Ruby.

Visual-based vs. text-based programming - which is best for kids?

Both visual and text-based programming have their pros and cons when it comes to teaching children code. Some would argue that visual-based coding, such as that used by Scratch, is easier for younger children to get to grips with - it's more fun, looks prettier and more appealing, and has easy-to-use features such as drag and drop, and drop-down menus which younger kids can handle. Text-based programming is sometimes thought of as the next step on from learning visual-based programming. It's considered by many to be more appropriate for older children who have a foundation in visual-based coding already, are comfortable using a keyboard, and have some grounding in logical thinking and basic arithmetic.

However, the Ofsted computer curriculum review highlighted some pitfalls in solely using visual-based programming to teach children code. It's common for these 'block-based' languages to be used in primary schools as an introduction to coding, but the review concluded that some habits formed while using them are "at odds with the accepted practice of computer science" and unhelpful in teaching real-world skills. For example:

Benefits of text-based coding: 21st Century skills

Visual-based programming provides a great introduction to coding, but it is limited in terms of building future digital skills. As the Ofsted review highlights, from a young age it's crucial to arm children, and girls in particular, with the 21st Century skills they need to enter the world of work and become confident and successful digital citizens - and in order to do this, they will need to learn text-based programming languages. Here are just some of the ways text-based programming can support kids learning and build digital skills for the future:

Read more about the benefits of coding for kids.

How can Erase All Kittens help kids learn text-based programming?

In line with the 'high quality' computing education laid out in the Ofsted review, Erase all Kittens is a fantastic way for kids to develop text-based programming skills. It's a revolutionary web-based game designed to equip kids aged 7-13 with usable digital skills, that will prepare them for 21st Century degrees and careers.

Ofsted highlighted that 'storytelling' can have a useful role in helping children remember information, as long as the story is 'linked back to the specific computing concept they represent' - and Erase All Kittens does just that with its fun, story-driven approach. Players control the game's main character, Arca, who is on a mission to find all the kittens in the universe who have mysteriously gone missing. Step-by-step, players are taught the code they need to solve problems along the way - typing out code, testing it, seeing successes and learning from mistakes. It's a highly entertaining way for children to experiment with text-based programming as they learn code, save kittens and save the universe!

What's more, with its fun, friendly characters and kitten-themed storyline, Erase all Kittens is really appealing for girls, which is so important in our mission to get girls into coding and close the gender digital divide within the tech industry.

Read more about the importance of entertainment in education.


So, in summary, what is text-based programming and why is it important for kids? It's a real-world skill that children will need in order to prepare themselves for careers in the digital age; it's a way to be creative, to test boundaries, see ideas come to life and to learn critical problem-solving skills; and most importantly, it's fun! And there's no better time for children to start learning.

Find out more about how Erase All Kittens can support the learning of text-based programming and get a quote for your school.

Help Arca on this important mission and try Erase All Kittens for free.

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