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Steve Furber On Why Kids Are Turned Off To Computing Classes 383

Posted by timothy
from the thought-the-kids-were-alright dept.
nk497 writes "UK computing legend Steve Furber — co-founder of Acorn and ARM designer — believes students are avoiding computing classes because they teach nothing but the boring basics. Currently studying why the number of students signing up for computing has halved in the past eight years, Furber said schools focus too much on teaching kids how to use spreadsheets, word processors and PowerPoint, rather than teaching more challenging areas such as programming. 'What schools are presenting as ICT as an academic subject is very mundane compared with what students know they can do,' he said. 'It's as if maths was just arithmetic or English was taught as just spelling. It's not unimportant that you can do arithmetic or you can spell, but it certainly doesn't open up the whole world of interest and challenge, if that's all you do.'"
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Steve Furber On Why Kids Are Turned Off To Computing Classes

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  • well.. (Score:3, Funny)

    by Soilworker (795251) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @01:58PM (#33152400)

    They can't teach anything else, most "computer science" teach I had in highschool was almost computer iliterate, shit, I even had a programming teacher in college who was typing with 2 fingers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by The MAZZTer (911996)
      Perhaps it's the opposite problem. Because comp sci classes don't cover anything but the basic basics, schools never need to or never realize their teachers aren't very good at the subject themselves. If the school taught more advanced subjects they would screen out those teachers in job interviews based on questions on the subjects.
      • Agreed. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by itomato (91092) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @02:49PM (#33153188)

        I had pre-CompSci in 7th and 8th grade, taught by an old mainframer.

        He gave us challenging computer science problems. We turned them out on C64s.

        When the work was done, out came the joysticks..

        Thanks, Barry!

      • Re:well.. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Vindication (1383017) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @02:49PM (#33153198)
        Personally, I'm trying to figure out why the College Board decided to ditch AP Computer Science AB. It covered more advanced CS topics (by high school standards, anyway,) that, ideally, should have served as such screening.

        I was fortunate enough to attend the best-funded public school in my state and graduate from it several months ago (though one can easily argue much of the funding simply went to and from the football program, that's a topic for another post) and was also fortunate to get to experience AP-AB CS the last year it was offered. Whereas AP-A CS focused on the basics of Java (perhaps a controversial choice of language, but certainly not the topic of choice here; it worked for me and for those of my classmates interested in learning the basics of programming,) I found that AP-AB introduced more advanced concepts - algorithm efficiency analysis via Big-O notation, the exploration of various data structures, etc.

        I feel the class left me unprepared in terms of what it set out to accomplish, but not because of its curriculum - I feel that the blame lies, quite frankly, in the incompetence of the teacher (for future reference, until the AP-AB course was discontinued in 2009, our school offered AP-A and AP-AB CS as consequent courses taught by the same teacher.)

        While I am by no means myself an excellent programmer by any stretch of the imagination, perhaps due to some predisposition for the topic matter, I had an easier time understanding the material than many of my classmates. I believe that one factor contributing to this was an immediate dislike of my teacher, which led me to largely ignore the lectures and simply read the corresponding material in our book (if I recall correctly, it was Fundamentals of Java by Lambert and Osborne). I noticed many of my (otherwise very bright) classmates struggling with what seemed to me basic concepts and they began turning to some of my other classmates, who were either already familiar with programming or simply had a knack for picking it up quickly, and myself for help.

        The teacher did not only fail to encourage having the kids actually learn something, she actively began to *stop* them from asking for help - both from each other AND from her!

        This sort of attitude, combined with a very, erm...'interesting' grading scale (you could easily pass the class if your code was formatted exactly as she specified in terms of white space but didn't work at all the entire year) and, judging by the few lectures I did listen to and the complaints of my classmates, a grip on Java that was tenuous at best, guaranteed that a large number of my classmates who were bright in other subjects and sought to learn basic programming skills turned away from the area for good. (About the one thing fully everyone got from that class was that the teacher was, by all accounts, full of hot air.)

        I think the problem lies in that, to weed out unsatisfactory teachers in programming, you'd need to have someone who actually understands the topic at hand involved at the screening, which, given the school I came from, seems unlikely.


        TL;DR (because not everyone enjoys a long-winded and rambling essay): I just graduated from high school and took the CS courses available; both the basic and more advanced courses were held back less by their content than by the several levels of incompetence of the teacher (and it's a total shame.)
        • by bberens (965711)
          If it helps, my "Intro to C" class in college was taught by a TA who didn't know C. So, at least in my experience, it's not any better in college.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Nadaka (224565)

            It could be worse, you could have an intelligent teacher who knows and loves the subject, but only speaks Vietnamese. Fortunately there was a cute little Vietnamese girl in class. I would have passed just on doing the homework, but there were other advantages to be had.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by mrchaotica (681592) *

            If you had a class called "Intro to C" (as opposed to something like a hardware and compilers class that incidentally involves using C), your college sucked anyway.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by StayFrosty (1521445)
          This reminds me of my "Intro to Java" college programming class. At one point the professor failed me on an assignment because she couldn't figure out how to open a .java file. Her response when I complained was "It says in the syllabus that you must turn in assignments as zipped jbuilder projects." This same teacher attempted to teach Java 1.4 to the class using a Java 1.5 textbook. She would not switch to 1.5 because Jbuilder uses it's own internal JDK and there wasn't a version of Jbuilder that suppo
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by tophermeyer (1573841)

            I totally empathize with the failed assignment. I had a similar problem at one point.

            Though looking back, it does teach a valuable lesson. Make sure that your product reflects all the initial design requirements. If a customer gives you a design requirement and you ignore it, that's a problem.

    • Re:well.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @02:15PM (#33152682)

      shit, I even had a programming teacher in college who was typing with 2 fingers.

      I've met many programmers that are horrible typists. The two skills do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hatta (162192)

        When programming, you should spend a lot more time thinking than typing. So good typing skills are not necessary at all.

        • Conversely, when you have good typing skills you don't have to think about typing. When you have poor typing skills, you spend a lot more time looking for the "d" key.
      • This is true.

        In fact - one of the most amazing programmers I've ever seen had only 3 fingers on his left hand and his thumb, which he used for hotkeys while he used the mouse on the right to cut - paste - move code, etc.

        Very rarely did he have to type anything out - most things are already written.

    • by MoonBuggy (611105)

      I've had much the same experience. Sure, there were bad teachers in all subjects, but in general they at least knew their field much better than their pupils, and there were also some very good teachers in most areas - the same couldn't be said for ICT (as it was called in school). When the top 20% or so of a class of 15 year olds know significantly more about the subject than their teacher, something is seriously wrong. If the teachers don't understand the fundamentals then there's no chance of them being

      • by Venik (915777)

        I understand that there are many jobs in IT that seem more attractive than teaching, but surely that goes for maths, or chemistry, or whatever, too.

        It doesn't, actually. It is much easier for an "OK" programmer, sysadmin, network admin, etc. working as a teacher in school to find a better paying job in the industry than it is for an "OK" mathematician, chemist, or physicist. Unless you work at the Max Plank Institute for Physics or the Fermilab, chances are most commercial organizations have more IT staff than they do scientists.

        You also need to consider what education your teachers received themselves. Physics, math, chemistry have well-established

      • Re:well.. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Miseph (979059) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @03:29PM (#33153660) Journal

        One of the big reasons is because work involving computers is highly overvalued, and teachers are highly undervalued. I know that won't be a popular POV on Slashdot, but it's sadly true. Anyone who is even remotely competent as a programmer can pull down amounts of money that make $20,000 - $35,000 a year to start look, well, laughable. The benefits are pretty good, and the vacation time is pretty much unbeatable, but anyone able to understand '>' just isn't likely to bite. Heck, they'd be better off working as the school's IT guy than teaching CS there... a LOT better off.

        And it doesn't help matters that CS isn't one of the Big 4, and as such gets shafted right along with other subjects like art and music. One of the best parts about being a teacher is job security and stability... but if you can't even count on that beyond the next time a road needs to be repaved or a school committee member's child comes down with acute spend-a-gazillion-dollars-to-accommodate-me syndrome, then it loses a lot of appeal for decent potential candidates.

        For the record, I don't think this is exclusive to CS... journalism, political science, psychology, engineering, and a few others give very little incentive for graduates to take jobs in education. The rewards available from an entry-level job with a basic degree, and the competition for such jobs, simply conspire against it for all but the least competent individuals.

        Another reason, and one that probably doesn't help the former, is that we are just now beginning to see a generation of parents, educators, administrators, politicians, etc. who are actually in agreement on the value of technology education. That's the way the power balance is shifting, and demographics ensure that it will inevitably shift completely, but this kind of cultural change takes time. Even now there are a lot of people making decisions about education that will affect students for years to come, who sincerely believe that penmanship is a highly valuable skill warranting a great deal of education and practice (and not just because it is a good exercise for building fine-motor control and hand-eye coordination)... moving ITC beyond "how to open Excel" is just not going to happen overnight.

    • Re:well.. (Score:5, Funny)

      by dcollins (135727) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @03:28PM (#33153648) Homepage

      "iliterate"

      You don't say.

    • Re:well.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ash Vince (602485) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @03:31PM (#33153676) Journal

      They can't teach anything else, most "computer science" teach I had in highschool was almost computer iliterate, shit, I even had a programming teacher in college who was typing with 2 fingers.

      Maybe you are just arrogant? It is a common problem among techies, I know I suffered from it in my youth and it did me no favours.

      I am now a 36 year old software developer and the big thing I have learnt is how little I know. This is the same in many fields though since each answer always brings with it more questions. The best advice I can give you is to queitly learn as much as you can. Even though your teachers might know nothing about what you think they should know about, you be damn sure they know something and you never know when that something might be useful.

      PS - I still type with 2 fingers as I am not willing to take the short term hit on productivity in order to change the habit of the last 27 years (I learnt to code on the ZX Spectrum, not great code granted but it was a start)

  • Another big issue with computer classes is the woefully outdated equipments used. Back when I was in college, my computer class had us print Lotus spreadsheets (yeah, I'm a dinosaur) using dot matrix printers that were already relics back in those days. I remember that I printed my own spreadsheet 16 times to get it to come out right, and each of those 16 attempts came out differently. I was not a happy camper, as you can imagine, and anyone who was not already a computer enthusiast going into the class wou
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Shoeler (180797) *
      I dunno - I'm with the OP here. A big part of why most computing classes suck is that they aren't focusing on the fun and exciting things that can be done with programming.

      Example.

      I work in a US DoD agency that has a ton of civilian Engineers in it. I work with people who have MS degrees in Engineering, and tens of years of experience. Really. Friggin. Smart. People.

      Not a one of them has taken a programming language that's even still used. Not even the newest Engineer, who has his Masters, and is onl
      • by hoggoth (414195)

        Your job sounds kinda interesting. Many small one or two day projects for a variety of needs, working with very smart people. Could you say who you work for, or give some more details if you can't say the name?

    • What do you need to teach computer classes?

      Light-weight unix and some knowledge.... you can do what using 486's with 8M ram if that's all you got...

  • no child left behind and the cert mess = tech just the test and with certification alot of the time they are way off base from the real world or set in a world of free M$ software that in many places will no much to set up how some of the cert tests have things setup.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by wagadog (545179)

      ...and the students learn absolutely dreadful sentence construction besides!

      Honestly, your point is very well taken, if I understand it correctly.

      The certs you would have to go through to officially teach programming in the schools are so demeaning and outdated, that no programmer would do it -- and I've never met a teacher, even in the hard sciences or tech, who even knew what 'programming a computer' was: they were downright suspicious of the practice, because they couldn't distinguish it from 'hacking'.

      T

      • don't forget the 2-4+ year degree with loads of not tech stuff just to be able to get to the tech stuff and the Non Tech school tech in CS alot of old and out of date stuff and not the more upto date IT stuff.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Do you know there is a spelling difference between the words "tech" and "teach", right? If you would learn this it would make deciphering your posts much easier. Second on your list should be about splitting your thoughts into multiple sentences instead of one long run-on sentence that meanders.

    • no child left behind and the cert mess = tech just the test and with certification alot of the time they are way off base from the real world or set in a world of free M$ software that in many places will no much to set up how some of the cert tests have things setup.

      I don't think I've ever commented on someone's grammar before but, Damn! You want to try that again?
    • by ErikZ (55491) *

      Yeah, because before that, teachers NEVER taught for the test.

      Oh the joyous days of pure theory and understanding the subject matter, I'd miss you if you ever existed.

      For education to progress, we need standardized testing. Period.

    • by dcollins (135727)

      You may possibly win an award for the most unreadable three lines I've ever seen on Slashdot.

      Just for starters, let me introduce you to my pet, the "alot": http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/04/alot-is-better-than-you-at-everything.html [blogspot.com]

  • by Nursie (632944) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @02:09PM (#33152562)

    About 15 years ago.

    I did basic on my C64, and various other things on other machines we had at home. Then we had school computing class which taught us how to size and colour a font, put together a spreadsheet and other such guff.

    Later I got a programmable casio calculator and programmed that. Somehow it didn't occur to me to actually go into computers until I was 18. No thanks at all to the school.

    • by RightwingNutjob (1302813) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:41PM (#33156830)
      In my high school we had the typing and excel and spreadsheets class too. The one teacher involved in 'technology' education who I suspect had even an inkling of knowing how to code taught the fast-paced and uber-1337 *wait for it* HTML course. Good "alt-tabbing" skills were a requirement to pass. Exact quote.

      Then there was my freshman geometry teacher, God bless her, who on the first day of class told us all to get TI-83's, and on the second day started handing out code listings and had a standing policy of 'if you wrote the code on your calculator yourself, you can use it on the test'.
  • by Hatta (162192) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @02:12PM (#33152610) Journal

    The best thing you could do to really educate kids about computing, and not just train them on windows apps is to get them started with 8-bit computers. Yes, BASIC is awful for real development, but it was designed for education and it does this quite well. Removing all the layers of abstraction from modern PCs forces you to really understand what the computer is doing. While the skills aren't directly transferable to modern PCs, the concepts are, and that's what education is all about.

    • by Renraku (518261)

      Concepts is about all school is good for teaching anyway. You aren't expected to remember and actually use various special formulas from general chemistry courses in college. You're just expected to be familiar with the concepts, so that if you hear about them again, you already kind of know about them. No employer will (unless you're in a chemistry heavy graduate position) expect you to rattle off all the formulas and such that you need to know. Most likely they have a cheat sheet for those in the labs

    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      Nonsense. Nothing can really push a person to learn how a computer works better than a leaky race condition on a slow system. :)

    • by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @02:53PM (#33153240) Journal
      I'll agree with you in principle, I think the path should be something like LOGO, then BASIC, then Pascal or C.

      I'd suggest starting with LOGO just to get the general concept of programming (along with immediate gratification), BASIC for a short time only to bridge between LOGO and a more advanced language.

      Too much time spent using BASIC means a lot of un-learning needs to be done later.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Hey! The first computery thing I ever did with a computer was take a LOGO class as an extracurricular thing when I was in third or fourth grade or so. I haven't heard that language mentioned since then. I figured it was some sort of novelty program that died off as I got older or something. I can tell you, however, that if it hadn't been for that class, I wouldn't have ever understood why computers could be so cool. Up until fiddling with that language, I just figured computers were expensive video game con
      • I think the path should be something like LOGO, then BASIC, then Pascal or C.

        I would start with Python, then most people would never need to learn another language. A small minority would want to learn C, but those would be specialists.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          2005: I would start with Ruby, then most people would never need to learn another language. A small minority would want to learn C, but those would be specialists.
          2002: I would start with PHP, then most people would never need to learn another language. A small minority would want to learn C, but those would be specialists.
          1999: I would start with Perl, then most people would never need to learn another language. A small minority would want to learn C, but those would be specialists.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by ConceptJunkie (24823)

            1997: I would start with Java, then most people would never need to learn another language. A small minority would want to learn C, but those would be specialists.

            1990: I would start with VB, then most people would never need to learn another language. A small minority would want to learn C, but those would be specialists.

            1985: I would start with Pascal, then most people would never need to learn another language. A small minority would want to learn C, but those would be specialists.

            1980: I would start wit

      • I'll agree with you in principle, I think the path should be something like LOGO, then BASIC, then Pascal or C.

        I don't think "computer classes" should deal with programming at all. Programming classes should teach programming. When most kids take "computer classes", it's because they want to use the computer in ways they currently can't. The vast majority of kids would be bored silly writing programs. What they really want is a class that would be more accurately called "Here's how to do neat things with your PC that you don't yet know how to do". Neat to most teenagers is learning to photoshop or edit MP3 files or

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Zerth (26112)

        Logo is awesome because, at least for me, it simplifies teaching the concepts of parameters, code reuse, and recursion by making them visual and less abstract.

        I tutored CS in Uni and being able to show students how to draw a fractal in a few lines of LOGO helped a lot of English majors pass Intro to Programming Concepts.

    • or paper (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Thursday August 05, 2010 @11:10PM (#33157820) Homepage Journal

      I recently guest-taught a class at the local high school for kids who might be interested in computers.

      It was a bit rushed, but in 45 minutes I taught them basic binary counting and how to do XOR. They learned how to flip pennies to create a one-time-pad and transmit unbreakable encrypted messages. The bell rang just after they started decoding, but they walked out of the class still working the logic on their sheet of paper, so I think they were into it. CS can be fun as long as theory is only a tool to enable an application.

      Materials: whiteboard, scraps of paper, a handful of pennies.

  • by proxima (165692) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @02:12PM (#33152626)

    Sometimes classes are outright outdated. I had a course around 1999 which was supposedly about computer programming. We spent the first few weeks with only lectures and an incredibly outdated textbook. The teacher (an otherwise okay math teacher) was clearly well behind the times. He lectured about microcomputers, minicomputers and had no idea that most servers by then were basically souped up versions of typical desktop computers.

    The language was Pascal, which I suppose is a decent learning language, but we barely scratched the surface of programming ability. For a high-school level class, it was tediously outdated and slow. I truly hope that by now the instruction has moved along and kids are doing more interesting things. There were other interesting courses offered in things like graphic design, web design, etc. but the core programming class had neither much CS theory nor interesting applications. Worst, if you didn't know any better the content in the course would actually mislead you about the state of computing.

    All subjects have the "boring basics". The key is the instructor; a good instructor can make the basics of a field really interesting. Unfortunately, being a good programming instructor is hard, and at the K-12 level it is really hard.

    • by Korin43 (881732)

      All subjects have the "boring basics". The key is the instructor; a good instructor can make the basics of a field really interesting. Unfortunately, being a good programming instructor is hard, and at the K-12 level it is really hard.

      The basics don't have to be boring. To give you an example, I've never liked or paid any attention to English or typing classes. Today, I can type faster than any of my typing teachers in Junior High or High School, and have nearly-perfect spelling. Did I learn them as "boring basics"? Of course not. I played video games, used instant messengers and joined some forums. My typing also got a lot better after learning to program.

      The moral of the story? You'll learn the basics if you actually need them. They're

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        This is mainly because typing classes are total BS. I had to take some of those in grade school, and they teach the idiotic "home row" method, which simply doesn't work on QWERTY keyboards. I taught myself how to type fast, and it doesn't involve resting my fingers on the home row keys at all.

        It's a lot better typing on Dvorak, though: on that keyboard, most of the keys you use really are on the home row, unlike QWERTY.

  • My grade 10 and 11 computer science classes taught programming, but there was one problem: it was in Turing. For those of you who don't know, Turing is a simple language similar to Pascal that is only used in Ontario. The textbooks are from 1989 (refer to Mac OS 7 and the ICON computer). The funny thing is that the school paid for the IDE (which contains the only compiler in existence), so they wouldn't let students take a copy home (dang proprietary software!). (Un)fortunately, the company behind the langu
  • by line-bundle (235965) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @02:21PM (#33152762) Homepage Journal

    Computer science was new and wonderful twenty, perhaps thirty years ago. You could learn a large area of the field even in high school. There were things to discover, things to do, things to share.

    Then the commodity computer came and software behemoth companies. For almost anything now there are commercial apps which can do whatever you do faster better and at a level of generality you would never imagine. Wanna write a program plot a graph? There's Mathematica which does it in color.

    It's very hard to teach anything interesting if the home computer can do it better and faster. The iPhone programming craze did get people interested in programming again, but I guess that's over now.

    Computer science has to realize they are now living in reality like other sciences, low attendance, low interest, and students who either get it or don't. I found when I was teaching college math that freshman calc was the worst possible thing to teach. Anybody interested in math would skip it because they got it long ago. So it will be in Computer science.

    • by bsDaemon (87307)

      I taught myself programming from 8th grade. Basic, C, Perl, even some FORTRAN and Z80 assembler. After high school, I did an internship at a DOE lab, coding in C. When I got to college, intro comp sci in Java was so easy, and boring, that I just couldn't take it. The school wouldn't let me try and CLEP to higher levels, and I wasn't willing to suffer. I switched departments, studied literature and history, and now make my living doing computer stuff (most of my coding is in Perl these days, and some C,

    • by AtomicDevice (926814) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @04:22PM (#33154326)

      \For almost anything now there are commercial apps which can do whatever you do faster better and at a level of generality you would never imagine.\

      That's such BS, there are tons of tools (even commercial tools) which REQUIRE programming ability to make the most of. Take matlab, yes, most of it's features are technically available through the GUI, but if you want to do anything at all interesting with it (like, let's say, multivariate analysis of fMRI data), I think you'd be hard pressed (it would be impossible) to do it without writing a program to do it.

      It seems to me that you attitude is the real problem, yeah I could do it in excel with clicky buttons, or I could write a python script that does 10 times more 10 times faster. Not to mention that if someone learns how to program, learning baby stuff like excel and power point won't even require classes.

      I recently tought a bunch of psych kids how to write some matlab to run their experiments and analyze their data (see sassy fMRI comment above) and It seems ridiculous that anyone could hope to be any sort of exciting scientist without the ability to at least to some simple data handling in a scripting language.

  • kids aren't stupid (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bill Dog (726542)

    They know computing skills are a dead-end pursuit in the first world.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by scamper_22 (1073470)

      And this is what surprises me.

      We always get these articles... cool ways to teach kids... problems in educations...

      I hate to break it to Mr.ARM... but not everyone finds computing interesting. People have different interests.

      More importantly though is the job issue. Kids are not going to invest the time into the field without good and stable job prospects.
      Those do not exist.

      Hence the kids who could be your engineers and developers are now being doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers...
      How many of us really bri

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      How did this get modded up all the way?

      For the longest time the richest man in the world was the owner of the worlds largest computer company, who admittingly was a business man when that fortune came to him but definately was into computers himself.

      As far as jobs go - it's sometimes not as exciting as say NBA allstar or Famous Rock Musician - but thats the same as any job.

      What - you think someone who takes a course in business management is going to skyrocket with money? You think the accountants are livin

    • by trb (8509)
      Yes, to say it more plainly, learning to write software didn't become popular because it was cool in itself. It became popular because Bill Gates was the world's wealthiest man, and people became aware of other wealthy software entrepreneurs riding the 1990's internet economic wave. Those people who joined the ranks of the software industry didn't love software, they loved money. And when the money left the picture, so did the crowds of people.
  • by noidentity (188756) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @02:23PM (#33152800)

    It's as if maths was just arithmetic or English was taught as just spelling.

    More like, if maths were just learning to use a calculator. Learning to use a spreadsheet or word processor isn't even about computing. If that passes for computing, then driver's ed could replace physics, and home economics chemistry. It's like they thing that if a computer is involved, it has something to do with computer science. But computers are in almost everything these days.

  • Modern schooling was designed to inhibit education [johntaylorgatto.com], not further it.

    Once you realize that then everything starts to make sense.

  • by ZERO1ZERO (948669) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @02:29PM (#33152874)
    During my time in highscool we covered a number of topics, fundamental to computing. Binary arthmetic, operating systems, hardware and cpus. We used both windows and macintosh systems (Mac classics, and later LCs), and we coded programs on BBC micro computers (the people on macs used an emulator).

    The was a great CPU simulator programs on the BBCs and you could step through machine code. We had to write a small assembly program to add some numbers or similar. Of course we also had the office apps lessons with database/spreadsheet/wordproc stuff, mostly using clarisworks.

    We also had atari sts in Art and Music departments, and the maths department had BBC micros for things like graphing and simulations on occassion. This was all during the 90's, even my primary school in the 80's had a BBC A and B for things like Funschool [wikipedia.org] etc..

  • by Antony T Curtis (89990) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @02:34PM (#33152966) Homepage Journal

    Bring back the educational BBC TV programmes on computing/programming.
    Heck, just do reruns and bring back the old BBC Model B. Kids will learn far more from that than they ever will at schools today.

    I have never taken any computing subject at school because of how boring they are. I learnt a lot just by experimenting by myself, buying books, magazines and watching TV. Once upon a time, one used to be able to get great information from magazines and terrestrial television but nowadays, they don't get any more technical than discussing font size and if a case mod with LEDs will make the computer perform better. Pioneering stuff was done years ago on TV, like encouraging people to hack their TVs and pipe the audio to the cassette audio-in on their home computers to try to download a program. It was fun stuff.

    Not doing any computing classes at school didn't put a crimp in my career... except perhaps that I never learned to touch-type properly.

  • by bloosh (649755) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @02:35PM (#33152984)

    I am the IT director of a school in the US. I can see first hand that the only thing the "educators" are interested in is training students to use application software. Not only that, it must be the absolute latest version of a certain company's office package. It's so the students will get "real world" training. WTF?

    While it indeed is important for students to learn to use these tools, by the time some of these students make it into the workforce, the software that students are trained on (and cost so much money to 'license') is 'obsolete.'

    What happened to the concept of teaching concepts? How to produce a document using a word processor and not Microsoft Word 2007? I learned word processing with AppleWorks on an Apple //e. I can churn out a basic document in minutes with any word processor I use. How many kids 'trained' in the exclusive world of Microsoft software will ever be able to do this? I'm very lucky. The administration in the school I work at is not like this. The administration mostly use Windows machines, but the students and teachers all use a mix of Linux thin clients (LTSP!) and Macs. The office package we use is Open Office.

    • On the other hand, you and I grew up in a world with multiple word processors, each with very different interfaces.

      Now your options are Office, or something that's trying to be Office.

  • The boring basics! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by paulbiz (585489) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @02:37PM (#33153026) Journal

    students are avoiding computing classes because they teach nothing but the boring basics

    In fact, when I was forced to go to school I tried to avoid all classes because they all taught nothing but the boring basics.

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @02:43PM (#33153120) Homepage

    There is no "IT personnel shortage" until salaries go up.

    As I point out occasionally, "Information Technology" is taking the same path that "stationary engineering" did almost exactly a century century ago. In the 1880s, it was a really big deal if you were the one who could get a steam engine and generator to work together and light up a factory, business, or town. By 1910 or so, it was a routine job. Today, there are still about 25,000 stationary engineers in the United States. It's a good union job. There are electrical engineers designing new equipment, but they're nowhere near the user and have completely different training than the people who install and run the stuff.

    That's where IT is going, and it's almost there. Don't worry about it. Just use your iPhone like a good little consumer, and buy your software from Microsoft.

  • by CAIMLAS (41445) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @02:44PM (#33153138) Homepage

    As a sysadmin who has to program from time to time: yes, spreadsheets and word processors are completely unimportant in many regards. They're different, the skills migrate pretty easily, and the likelihood of having to use the same spreadsheet in 3-5 years is negligible.

    Basic spreadsheet computations, or Access stuff? Sure, I suppose. Just please don't use a horrible Microsoft Press book: crammed full of "click here" goodness bullshit, they're mind numbing. They're worse than New Math.

    Basic programming is, for a beginner, very satisfying - whether it's shell, perl, or VB. "Look what I made" is very horizon opening, regardless of whether it's a crayon drawing, an ash try, a clock, or a highly advanced artificial intelligence. :)

    The problem there is that any AI written by a high schooler is likely to be several hundred iterations more complex than the average school teacher, "computer" teachers included.

  • by Captian Spazzz (1506193) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @02:51PM (#33153226) Homepage

    In this regard anyway. I remember I avoided PC classes all through school. Why waste elective credits on stuff I already knew and listen to a teacher, who can't progam their own VCR, try to tell me how a PC Functions or tell me the way I type is wrong?

    Nothing agianst the treachers but in most cases they barely grasp what they themselves are teaching and its going to be a generation or two before this changes because the technology is new and still in a very rapid state of change.

    I remember I didn't take a computer class until high school when they started offering A+ and CCNA and such as elective credits. I took keyboarding because it was a prerequesit, they wouln't waive it. The teacher knew nothing about what he was doing and was infurated with me because he gave me what he was sure was a whole periods worth of work to anybody, and I finished it in 5 minutes. I finaly got kicked out of his class when he sent me to the principals office because I would not respond when he called me "BOY!" It was one of those southren types where everyone in his class was either "BOY!" or "Sugar" He wrote me up for being disrespectful because I pointed out I had no idea he was talking to me because there were about 12 other boys in his class.

    Luckily the principal realised how stupid it was and waived the requirement since I obviously could already type faster than I could talk.

  • Way back before there were PCs I learned BASIC in a graduate school course. Today, that is taught, if at all, in elementary school. SURELY today by the time a student gets to college, he or she knows all about word processing, spreadsheets (Long live Lotus 123!) and Powerpoint. Courses on these subjects are largely superfulous. No one with any brains needs them. I see my local community college offers them for the "gotta get retrained" crowd, but other than that colleges might take a good hard look at their

  • when I was in college, one of the requirements was computer class.
    I knew nothing about a computer, what I was taught was how to work a spreadsheet, I almost failed the class.
    Because of that experience I didn't touch a computer for ~10 years, until I finally broke down and purchase a 486dx2.
    If only I was taught something 10 years ago, it might not have taken me that long to truly appreciate them.

  • I played Oregon trail and Carmen Sandiego in my computer classes. You had to build spreadsheets? Suckers!!
  • by peter303 (12292) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @03:36PM (#33153752)
    Probably a majority of US students dislike math and science classes because they are viewed as "hard". Since they are usually college entrance requirements and computer science usually is not, they are less avoidable in practice.
  • I remember taking the mandatory computer class back in HS 10 years ago. It was mostly about how to send an email. Attachments are so hard to figure out!!!
    We did a little bit of html and the final project was to code a website with certain criteria. Of course, the teacher didn't know squat and I usually was correcting her, so I made mine very satirical and ended up getting a 0 on it because she hated me. I passed the class by one percentage point. Worst grade I ever got.
    Moral of the story, public school tea
  • I'd have certainly enjoyed my comp sci courses more if Steve Furber had written all my textbooks. He's completely lucid and hits the balance between technical and readable. His ARM SoC Architecture title is a freakin' gem.
  • "Steve Furber — co-founder of Acorn and ARM designer — believes students are avoiding computing classes because they teach nothing but the boring basics."

    This is something you could survey students about and determine directly. My alternative hypothesis is that students avoid CS because (exactly like math) it's just too hard for them. My community college students find stepping through a flowchart and assigning some variables almost overwhelmingly, unimaginably difficult.

  • The problem I encountered was that the teachers themselves are often unable to obtain any other job. I have over 12 years of teaching experience. 2 at the local college. The rest as an Independent Consultant to the local colleges.

    The problem starts with a salary issue. I could earn the same salary at the local college teaching first year electrical apprentices basic math as an advanced programming course. My salary was based on education * years of experience. The Union (er Teachers Association ensure

  • by twmcneil (942300) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @04:04PM (#33154102)
    "how to use spreadsheets, word processors and PowerPoint" are not Computing classes or computing skills. They are examples of office skills and should be classified as Business Courses.
  • by RandCraw (1047302) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @05:17PM (#33154922)

    Computers were fun back when the reward was worth the effort. Poking data into the display buffer, writing short bits of code in machine language to open the door of CD drive -- the direct connection between software and hardware -- that's what I liked.

    Today the best way to do that is probably to build a robot or some other sort of embedded system. Watching your Lego-bot roll around the floor and respond to input according to your rules is a lot more engaging than calling Qt to put up a button or OpenGL to draw a square.

    It's obvious pretty quickly that 'Hello World' isn't exactly the door to Narnia.

  • by alexandre (53) * on Thursday August 05, 2010 @11:45PM (#33157998) Homepage Journal

    In french we have Informatique and Bureautique.
    The first one being Comp. Sci.... the Second one being secretary work.

    School usually don't teach the first one and think that kids learning the latest very specific version of whatever Microsoft released must be good.
    What a shame!

  • by Animats (122034) on Friday August 06, 2010 @01:06AM (#33158348) Homepage

    I actually took a 1-credit "How to use a Macintosh" course at Stanford. Of course, this was in 1984, when that was a big deal.

    (The 128K Macintosh, with one floppy and no hard drive, wasn't very impressive. It's worth remembering that it was a commercial flop. "A machine for the intensive study of wait icons", someone wrote at the time. Not until the Mac was built up to 512K or so and had a working hard drive was it actually useful.)

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