Autonomous learning, coding for all, and reality

Life is too short to learn alone, or learn the last things first.

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For the poor, says Payal Arora according to this review of her book, autonomous learning can be a Russian roulette with their future.

Years ago, she and her colleagues deployed Internet kiosks in rural India, so that they could be used by “women seeking health information, farmers checking crop prices, and children teaching themselves English”.

In reality, those kiosks became primarily Pac-Man gaming stations, or access points to free movies or social networking sites. This, concludes Arora, is a perfect example of the digital “leisure divide” between the developed and developing worlds:

“The leisure divide is about understanding what the global poor want from their digital life and why it matters to them.

This problem isn’t restricted to internet kiosks.

Everybody code, please. Or not?

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<a href="" target="_blank">Hey Journalists, Learn To Code!</a>


Everything is software today, and that can be bad. Even in 2019, however, the argument that coding should be mandatory in schools, the sooner the better, is too often just another version of the “leisure divide”.

Already in 2013, an article in Wired concluded that, while it is not wrong to teach a person to code, coding is only a panacea “in a world where merit is all it takes to succeed”.

Personally, I don’t think that, even in such a world, coding would be a panacea. Even if such a world were a great place to live in, which is doubtful. But I do agree that coding is not the new literacy, and never was.

In any case, first things first, please

This is another theoretically obvious truth that is never repeated too often. In many countries of the “First” World, the average functional literacy rates are way too low to subtract limited resources to the basic, non-negotiable task of raising those rates first.

And even if those rates were high, the next thing to fix would not be coding, but basic “digital media literacy”: the ability to effectively use computers to, say, access programs or log onto the internet. The story above from India can happen, and is happening, everywhere.

Regardless of priorities, digital media literacy is something like civic education. Unlike coding, it can, and must, be thought effectively to everyone. I agree 1000% with Basel Farag who said:

“I would no more urge everyone to learn to program than I would urge everyone to learn to plumb."