There are more and more initiatives to encourage youth to learn programming. While these efforts are well-meaning, they are also a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s great that more kids, some as young as first grade, are picking up coding. The world, the Philippines included, is in short supply of programmers, and there are so many websites, apps, and software that need to be built or improved.
On the other hand, the calls to learn programming tend to be vague. Programming itself is such a diverse field. Encouraging a kid to pick up programming would be the equivalent of asking someone 20 years ago to learn the internet. The request is just so broad that it’s unhelpful. The actual curriculum of many of these introductory courses fares no better, with many of them offering content that is too basic, or in some cases even counterproductive. Some of these classes, for example, start students off by learning HTML and CSS, which may be a waste, given the proliferation of so many drag-and-drop website builders. They would be better off studying an introductory language for which there are no modular shortcuts.
Instead of telling kids to just learn programming, we should be telling them to study this or that particular topic within programming. Giving them guideposts on the most helpful languages and technologies to learn is infinitely more helpful, especially as it comes to education planning and career pathing. To this end, there’s one overarching technology that I recommend to my fellow youth programmers to master: blockchain.
You’ve probably heard that word before, most likely used in conjunction with “crypto,” which is one of the top buzzwords in business and technology. Though blockchain may sound intimidating, I encourage you not to be put off by the term. Blockchain is analogous to many of the things we routinely experience in the Philippines.
Picture, if you will, the front desk of a local condominium. There is most likely a record book that the guard or receptionist asks you to sign into when visiting a friend. In the aggregate, this record book serves as a record of transactions—in this case, visits— for the entire condominium. This is effectively what the blockchain is, only it exists in digital form and it’s immutable. Unlike a physical record book, which someone could tamper with, the blockchain cannot be altered, because it is maintained through a network of nodes, each doing complex mathematical calculations to verify transactions and maintain a running log of the entire ledger.
So why should blockchain, this kind of digital ledger, matter to young Filipinos learning how to program? It’s because a blockchain enables you to create solutions that we previously had to rely on trusted third parties, like banks, to perform. We can generate immediate value, in other words.
I had the privilege of experiencing this first-hand. Late last year, I built iVote, a blockchain-powered platform where Filipinos could vote on the non-fungible tokens of their preferred candidates in the then-upcoming presidential, vice presidential, and senatorial selections. The platform garnered over 5,000 votes from Filipinos (which were again immutable because of the blockchain verification) and was even featured on CNN Philippines. Filipinos clearly had an interest in blockchain, owing to the trust and transparency it could empower a system with.
It was in this spirit that I have since made BLOXWeb, a decentralized internet built on BLOX. Because it’s decentralized, BLOXWeb does not rely on any intermediary, and it’s completely free from censorship, which is, of course, a growing concern in the age of misinformation. BLOXWeb is an innovation enabler: Through our decentralized internet, other individuals and businesses can build and deploy their own solutions.
I share my experiences with iVote and now BLOXWeb as a call to my fellow peers. Don’t just learn programming — learn blockchain. As an immutable digital ledger, it is the best way to create value for fellow Filipinos. We can create solutions that address some of the legacy systems in need of greater efficiency, transparency, and affordability. In terms of return for both yourself and your wider community, blockchain is perhaps the best technology within programming to learn. You get to create new innovations on your own accord, all while creating social impact. That, to me, is why blockchain is not just a buzzword on the news, but an avenue for genuine change. I invite you to join me on this road, onward toward a better Philippines.
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Rien Lewis Pecson, 13, is a developer who learned how to program while homeschooling during the pandemic. He co-founded iVote, currently attends an international school in Manila, and aspires to make a global impact through technology.
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