Coding vs. Gaming: The New Arms Race in Student Learning?

Fast asleep. Finally. It’s 2:18 a.m. EST and the controller is still clutched in hand like a carbon fiber security blanket. School night. Up at 6:22 a.m. Four hours of sleep is plenteous for a growing teen. Spin the globe to India. Zonked at 1:10 a.m. He just finished coding a redesigned avatar with accompanying armaments for the betterment of the evil-doers residing at the newborn top level of play. Six hours and 51 minutes until first period, Ruby Rails. He’s 10 years old.   

Leading or Following. As the gamer falls asleep, the coder scrutinizes his prey from a craggy, IP address perch, and analyzes 107 minutes of play progress from the day. After considering a dozen strategies to deepen commitment to the avatar and intensify the plotline, the coder generates a satisfactory concoction for the gamer’s next day’s challenges. Advanced Video Game Programmer Hourly Wage = $45 per hour. (US$)   

The next day, the gamer now traipses on pre-hewn jungle paths, albeit with skillful agility toward a never-met goal of reconciling the shifting, omnipresent sources of good and evil. Gamer’s expenditure = $38.99 (game) + $249.99 (gaming console) + $829.99 (4K gaming TV) + $290.00 (elite MMOG — Massively, Multiplayer, Online Game — headphones). By the way, did your brain insert a male gamer in this prose, because female gamers are the largest growth demographic?   

Success Story. Which one will be more financially successful, acquire more marketable workplace skills, and develop critical thinking strategies to accelerate learning? Still unfolding research reveals a mix of pros and cons for gaming. However, coding results in an abundance of sophisticated pluses, potentially then harnessed to bolster nearly every other course of academic study.   

Next, consider the economic prosperity. For example, imagine if you learned to code at age 8, and then at age 16 you apply for a technology-related job via an online proficiency test. In 2020, you’d likely be snatched up immediately. The prediction is for 1.4 million coding-related jobs to be available in the U.S. with only 400,000 qualified applicants, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even better, now your after-school job has you earning $45 per hour while telecommuting from New York City to Los Angeles, performing a resume-building, part-time job from 12 noon PST to 5 p.m. PST (3 p.m.–8 p.m. EST). Now, you’re a high school student making more than $50,000 per year.   

What’s Gaming’s “Gotcha”? So, what is the lure of Grand Theft Auto V, League of Legends, Minecraft, or even Spider Solitaire? Is gaming a pastime, a MMOG enabling human connection on an international playground, an adrenaline rush, a time-waster, an addiction, a means to train the brain in higher level thinking, a pathway to loss of empathy or even violence, or simply a highly profitable industry? All of the above.   

What is the dollar value of making gaming addictive, engaging, and entertaining? In 2013, video game industry worldwide revenue reached $76 billion, with $49.6 billion going to Asia-Pacific and $22.8 billion going to North America, according to Dutch marketing company iQu. By 2017, revenue is expected to double as the worldwide gaming clock tick-tocks 3 billion minutes of game time per week. Time spent gaming is increasing rapidly, as more girls join in the fun and the accessibility and affordability of high speed connectivity and high bandwidth devices grow. Currently, the average U.S. gamer (whether age 14 or 34) spends 107 minutes per day gaming. In Europe, that number is 97. In Asia and the Pacific, the average is 47 minutes. (Research on gaming time and locations was conducted by U.S.-based Internet research company comScore.) Consider these numbers the next time your school community discusses “over-scheduled” kids.   

What’s Coding Got to Offer? Coding is the ability to read, write, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the instructional language used by technology devices to accomplish defined tasks. The task may be configuring a signature line in an email client, or scarfing meta data from Fall Out Boy’s Twitter feed and followers to predict fashion trends. Coding is disciplined logic. It is the ability to problem-solve, to fulfill a need, and to invent.   

Digital Native, but Not Digital Fluent. Gaming and coding produce very different perspectives on the real world objects around us. For instance, is the true digital native someone whose new phone provokes the question, “How fast can I download my apps?”, or the teen who asks herself, “How can I program this phone to do what I want?” Similarly, consider how “thinking in Code” can orient one’s entrepreneurship toward ensuring a new idea is ready for translation into Code’s universal language, facilitating global project bids and instant market feedback on viability. Thinking within the parameters of what’s possible programmatically and technologically enables an inventor to sell both faster and more efficiently.   

Operation Code. American public schools seem stymied by the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) curriculum model as to where “Coding” fits. Additionally, paralysis sets in with the question of which “language” to teach: HTML, CSS, Java, Ruby on Rails, Python, Django, Node.js or other up-and-comers. However, questions of “curriculum configuration” aren’t stopping private educational firms and even entire countries from moving ahead with instructional offerings. New York City parents are paying Flatiron $2,500 for 12 weeks of after-school coding classes. is dedicated to helping students and teachers get going with coding, generously supported by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.   

A Global Coding Tour. The creaking curricula of instruction on Excel spreadsheets, word processing, and other stagnant apps are being redesigned around the globe. In 2013, the United Kingdom invested more than £3 million in teacher training and curricula development to produce a three-stage Information and Technology Curriculum. Beginning at age five, students garner foundational thinking skills, and then build on these abilities through age 13. To bolster success for this new curriculum, parallel parent modules enable adults to learn alongside their children.  

Hong Kong’s University of Science and Technology added a coding requirement for graduation two years ago. Families in Hong Kong who can afford $1,300 for 12 weeks of after-school instruction for their 7-year-olds have signed up for First Academy, founded by Michelle Sun, a 28-year-old Hong Kong native and graduate of the University of Chicago. Hugely popular at First Academy: Kids learn to create their own apps to compete in the $99+ million App Market.   

Motivation for Removing Hurdles. Over the last dozen months, I have presented at more than 200 independent schools throughout North America and heard from a few about how you’re adding coding to the curriculum in the language department, as an elective, as a specialty camp, as an after-school program, or as a requirement for elementary school students to graduate to middle school. A handful of you are considering adding coding as core curricula as you roll out new 1 to 1 programs.   

Final Thought.  What if this is the year you add one clause to your Family and Employee Handbooks: ABC Academy retains ownership and the unlimited right to use, for any purpose of its choosing, any and all intellectual property created with our resources or in conjunction with our programs and instruction. Imagine the smiles on the faces of your development office when the renewable royalty checks arrive. Note: Mark Zuckerberg started coding what eventually became Facebook when he was in middle school. He attended an NAIS member school, by the way.   


Katie Koestner is program director of Campus Outreach Services. Since 1994, COS has provided risk management and student safety and wellness programs and services to more than 5,000 K-12 schools and institutions of higher education around the world. Koestner appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine at age 18 as the first survivor to speak out publicly about being raped by someone you know. HBO made a movie about her story, and she has subsequently lectured at more than 3,500 schools throughout the world. She appears in many media outlets and lectures to schools, universities, corporations, organizations, and military bases worldwide on student safety and wellness. Her particular areas of interest include digital citizenship and healthy relationships. She has authored more than 100 books, articles, blogs, and other publications. Koestner can be reached at [email protected].    

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Katie Koestner

Katie Koestner is program director of Campus Outreach Services. Since 1994, COS has provided risk management and student safety and wellness programs and services to more than 5,000 K-12 schools and institutions of higher education around the world.