BTW, you call chemistry "basic"? Why is chemistry of any practical use to anyone but anyone but a chemist? I can't recall a single instance in my life when I had to apply any sort of chemistry-based knowledge.
Sigh. I'm shit at math but I can easily recognize many places where more math would improve my life, especially since I like to make things and customize them. By the same token I never got any chemistry (it was not required, and by the time I got to college I had other interests) but I can recognize that it would be cool to have more of it. Even cooking is chemistry, and a lot of that fancy-pants "molecular gastronomy" (what, other food doesn't have molecules?) stuff is applicable to more mundane foods. Or looking at the back of the shampoo bottle and knowing the difference between one thing and the next.
Let's apply that same logic to computer programming. How often are these kids going to be interacting with computers in their lifetimes?
A lot more deeply, odds are, if they're programmers. That's the point of teaching them young.
Might it not be handy to understand how those computers work, and perhaps even know how to write scripts to automate tasks, for instance?
Yeah, but you could do that without learning a whole lot about programming, simple if-then-else and pattern matching will cover most needs there. But programming is still very valuable. On the flip side, not all the kids will take to it, so spending a lot of time on it is probably a bad idea. They only make you spend a year or so on a foreign language (if that) in school, programming probably ought to receive about the same amount of mandatory attention.