Encouraged by their parents, more primary school children are taking up computer programming to learn how to make websites.
Parents apparently feel that if their children acquire programming skills it will help them in future, given the current environment in which kids are familiarizing themselves with information technology from a young age thanks to the spread of smartphones and tablet computers.
This trend has attracted the attention of companies as a new business opportunity, as illustrated by the number of major after-school private study schools that have opened courses targeting children who hope to acquire computer programming skills.
In mid-May, primary school students expressed their enthusiasm in a programming class run by Litalico Inc., a company based in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, which operates a cram school chain.
One child said, "Great! It really moved," while another said, "By changing this number, the character gets stronger."
The class began in April with about 300 children attending.
"Even though I quit an English-language class, programming is fun so I've kept at it," a sixth-grade boy said.
Parents have great expectations for the class.
A 45-year-old company employee from Ota Ward, Tokyo, whose son, a first-year primary school student, attends the class, said: "In the future, programming skills will be like today's English-language skills. It's important for [my son] to become accustomed to programming while he's small."
In a survey last August of about 620 mothers whose children were of primary school age or younger, Recruit Lifestyle Co. found that computer programming ranked seventh among subjects they hoped their children would learn.
Learning the piano and karate were higher in the top 10 list.
However, this was the first time since the company started conducting such survey, that computer programming has entered the top 10 list.
The discipline was more popular than dancing and learning the abacus.
"Many children become interested in programming after playing games or watching videos on their parents' smartphones," according to a Litalico official.
The official said there are parents who hope their children will turn out to be like Steve Jobs, cofounder of Apple Inc. of the United States.
Eikoh Holdings Inc., a company based in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, which operates the major cram school chain Eikoh Seminar, also opened its first computer programming class in Tokyo in April.
The company plans to sell teaching materials and how-to programming classes to 500 cram schools by the end of 2018.
A subsidiary of Cyber Agent Inc., a Shibuya Ward, Tokyo-based information technology company, has opened programming classes in three locations across the nation since 2013.
However, the proportion of programming classes in the curriculum of public schools remains small. Since fiscal 2012, middle school students have been required to take programming classes as part of the engineering-home economics subject, in which students make simple software using personal computers.
But only about 10 class hours are allocated to programming during three years of middle school.
"To produce IT products and services that can compete in the world, it's important to teach programming as early as possible during compulsory education to widen the base of human resources," said Yoshinori Takesako, a 38-year-old researcher of Cybozu Labs Inc., an information technology company.