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United Kingdom Education Programming

Fixing Over a Decade of Missing Computer Programming Education In the UK 117

Posted by samzenpus
from the we-don't-need-no-education-well-maybe-we-do dept.
For around a decade programming was not part of the computer curriculum in the U.K.. Through a lot of hard work from advocates and the industry this will soon change, but a large skills gap still exists. Tim Gurney is just one of many working on closing that gap. His Coding in Schools initiative aims to "work with schools and students and inspire the next generation of computer programmers and software engineers by creating and spearheading schools based programming clubs." I recently sat down with Tim to talk about who's working on the problem and what yet needs to be done. Read below to see what he's doing to change the state of things.
samzenpus: Could you give us a little background about you and your project?

Tim: Yeah. My background, I spent the last 16 years working as a professional system administrator and software engineer. I've worked in many different arenas. I worked in research and development, and education. Most recently I worked in government, and military, most recently within an ISP here in the U.K.

In the last couple years I started my own business called Wolf Software. Out of that came along the coding in schools initiative. The big problem that's been identified, at least in the U.K., is there is a big skills gap for programmers. Something we noticed when trying to recruit software engineers is the younger end of the industry, the people coming out of University, or the people who have been out of University two or three years seem to have little or no real exposure to programming and programming techniques.

The U.K. government changed the curriculum around 12 years ago and removed programming from the computing curriculum. They're only recently bringing it back. It's actually coming back at the start of this academic year in September. We found that most the schools are unprepared. Most of the teaching staff is unprepared. The students are unprepared to take on this new set of requirements, one of which is programming.

So our idea is to work with schools to build programming clubs out of hours to give the students who want to learn more and more detail on programming and what you can do with it, an opportunity to do that. So that's the idea in a nutshell.

samzenpus: Why was programming taken out of the curriculum? Was it budget cuts?

Tim: I don't actually know the justification. They basically removed computer science and computer studies, and brought in information communication technology, or, as I call it, secretarial skills. They basically removed proper computer studies, and they were teaching them applications as opposed to computing and programming and operating systems. I'm not aware of the full reasoning or justification. It was something that was done under the Labor government.

A lot of people in the industry have been lobbying the government for many, many years to bring back proper computer science, proper computer studies. And that's now been done. That starts at the start of this academic year.

samzenpus: What ages does your program cover?

Tim: Our aim is to work primarily with 11 to 16 year olds. There's another group in the U.K. called Code Club and they work with primary school children up to the age of 11. So what we're looking to do is work alongside them. Where they've taught the children basic principles, and they played around with software like Scratch and a few of the other applications that let them get an idea of how to build games and basic software, we will then come in pre-GCSE, so around 11 to 13 to start with, and introduce them to actual programming.

So we'll be looking at things like PHP, Python, Ruby, proper actual languages where they'll be writing the code, and then working with the schools and the students through the GCSE years of 13 through 16.

samzenpus: How long does the program last? Is it a whole year? Or is it broken up into semesters?

Tim: We're breaking it up into the semester concept. What we'll do is, there'll be an initial three or four week mini course, which will give them an introduction to programming principles in general. So we'll be covering things like, what are integers, what are strings, what are variables, what are if statements, conditional logic, and things like that; just the basic grounding of it.

And then what we're aiming to do is create a number of optional courses. So they could then do a one semester course in PHP or Perl or Python. So we'll create all of these different, ten week long courses, the students can then opt in to do whatever ones they want to. So we could be in a situation where on half of the club is doing Perl and the other half is doing PHP.

So it's more a case of inspiring the kids to actually program, and then allowing them to pick what languages and what direction they want that programming to go into. We're talking to a group at the moment that may be able to help us develop a programming semester for mobile development for Apple and Android devices. We're also looking at developing a short course for building and looking after Raspberry pi and what software development we can do with one of those.

samzenpus: Who does the work with the kids? Do you try to teach the school staff these skills?

Tim: It's a bit of both. With the first two or three pilot schools that we have, we work with the staff, but we actually attend the club as well. Primarily myself, I attend a lot of the clubs. So that they can actually ask questions which the teachers, in the short term, may not have an answer for. In the longer term, as it grows, obviously that's not going to be sustainable. I can't attend every club across the country.

So the idea is to engage with other small businesses and other software companies around the U.K. and get them to get involved in their local area under the coding in schools banner. And try and get them to attend at least once a month to be there as an expert, as it were, in programming. So that they've always got someone they can go to.

We're also building a set of discussion forums, things like that, online. So if the kids have got questions they can post them into the forum. And hopefully kids in other schools will be able to answer. And we'll start getting them to build their own software community.

We have the open source community that we're involved in. If we can build that sort of community feel across the country, where the kids are actually engaging with each other and potentially working on projects across the schools, that would be the ultimate aim.

samzenpus: One of the things I read on your website is that you focus a lot on how to get girls interested in computer science. Do you specifically target female students?

Tim: We don't specifically target them. What we have is we have a couple of undergraduates who work with us who are female students. They, themselves, have come to us saying that they were never really given an opportunity. They were never pushed and shown what you can do with IT. It's a common problem in the U.K., where the student uptake is probably about 80% male.

So one of the things that we want to do, at least with the staff, is say to them that when people are talking about joining the club, make sure you ask the girls if it's something they want to do. Don't wait for them to come to you, because most of the time they won't. You need to almost engage them first.

So as a club we won't be going directly to the students. The staff will approach the students. But we're just saying to them, make sure that the girls are aware that this is something that they can do. It's not a boring thing. Once they have learned the basics they can build whatever they want to build. There are some very powerful women in IT that, hopefully, we can then use as role models.

samzenpus: Do the kids get school credit for this? Or is it mostly just so that they can learn these skills?

Tim: At the moment it is purely to gain new skills and to gain new understanding and hopefully something of interest to them. One of the longer term aims, it will take a number of years, is we would like to work with people like Computing at School and some of the others, to actually have this become an accredited course. So if they picked, say, three of the different modules, and they got graded on a certain level in those, that would then count towards their final examination. But at the moment it's not in a state to do that.

samzenpus: The world economic state being what it is, a lot of education programs are being cut. Not just in the U.K., but all over. Where do you see programs like yours fitting into the future of education?

Tim: I think they are there to facilitate education. If we can get businesses and other people around the country realizing that the new students that are there are going to be their employees in 10 years' time, then they'll see that as a reason to give back. One of the things that started our thinking was if we don't start teaching the younger people now in 10 years' time there won't be any programmers to do the work.

So hopefully they'll see that as a way of giving back, not only to the industry as a whole, but also to their local communities to help out the schools. There are a lot of parents that we've spoken to, some of which work in IT, that have come along and said, "Well, you know, this is good for my kids. It's good for their school. How can we help?" So we see it working, hopefully, alongside the set educational system. But to give enhancement and opportunities to those that want to take it outside of school.

samzenpus: Have you talked to anyone in the government, about getting these programs in schools? Or do you think you're better served working with the schools directly?

Tim: I think in the short term, we're better served just talking directly to the schools. Once we can build up sufficient momentum, then we actually have something that we can take back to the local educational authorities, or to the government itself, and say, "Look. We've got 20% of all the schools in the U.K. onboard with this. This is something that you should be doing, but we're doing it. Why don't you help us?"

At the moment we don't quite have enough traction to do that. But we are talking and working with some bigger organization like, say, Computing at School, who have four thousand, five hundred members at schools across the country. So we're working with them. It's something they see as a gap. That's why we're working with them, because we fill a niche that they want to fill.

The aim, eventually, is for all of the groups like us, Coding in Schools, Code Academy, Code Club, and all these other different groups to eventually come together and hopefully form a national initiative which will cover all of the age groups, in and out of school, which will give us a very strong position, then, to take to the government and say, "This is something that needs to be done from a governmental level."

samzenpus: Is there anything else you're working on now?

Tim: We've got two or three pilot schools that we're starting now. We've got the first summer schools being planned. We're actually going to do a summer school this year. Because the course is starting in September, the new students are taking it as an option, and the teachers really don't quite know what they are doing yet.

So we put together a week long summer school to work with the two or three pilot schools and the staff to work with the students. Just so they can get an idea of what it is that is coming. So that's quite an important one.

With funding being cut for educational stuff all over the place, one of the things we're trying to do at the moment is to raise funding via either donations or sponsorship. I've talked to Google, and Microsoft, and some of the major players in the market that are software oriented, to see if we can get some donations or sponsorship from them, because it's them that are going to benefit, obviously in the long term. I think that's everything.
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Fixing Over a Decade of Missing Computer Programming Education In the UK

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  • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Thursday June 20, 2013 @11:36AM (#44061149)

    Tim Gurney is just one of many working on closing that gap

    If they can do it with teeth, they can do it with programming too!

    I just hope they do a delightful musical number, perhaps involving chimney sweeps and street urchins, to promote the initiative.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Tim Gurney is just one of many working on closing that gap

      If they can do it with teeth, they can do it with programming too!

      I just hope they do a delightful musical number, perhaps involving chimney sweeps and street urchins, to promote the initiative.

      You just can't be British around some people.

      Imagine if every time you made a comment, somebody replied with "Hey maybe that will help you eat your BURGERS and shoot your GUNS!". And then a bunch of people gave that person a congratulatory slap on the back. Because that's what just happened here.

      • by TWiTfan (2887093)

        Imagine if every time you made a comment, somebody replied with "Hey maybe that will help you eat your BURGERS and shoot your GUNS!".

        Hi, you must be new here.

  • Programming (Score:4, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday June 20, 2013 @11:43AM (#44061193)

    I think public education itself here is a major problem. Most children are being force fed knowledge and asked to regurgitate it on command. Forced learning like this doesn't stick very well; That's well-established in psychology. Self-directed learning requires more teacher-pupil involvement and support from the parents, but it results in a much more rounded education.

    I'm pretty much self-taught from 5th grade forward on all the primary school subjects; I just needed help with reading and after that I was on my own. I did very poorly in public education, but by the time I was 18, I took my GED and went into college. I can't tell you who the first ten presidents of the United States are, or regurgitate the talking points of War and Peace, but I can tell you why WWII happened, why Hitler had broad public support, show you pictures of him kissing babies, and not just say what happened, but why it happened. I can do basic trigeometry in my head and estimate distances pretty accurately just by looking at objects in real life. I don't just understand science, I practice it in everyday life. I don't just know that "sex is bad" like health class taught you: I volunteer at Planned Parenthood.

    Education that a person is involved in doesn't just lead to a better understanding of the world, but also an innate sense of responsibility for that world. And what does any of this have to do with programming?

    If I'd stuck to the curriculum shoved down my throat in school, I wouldn't have gotten into computers. I discovered it on my own. Then I taught myself programming. And now, professionally, I very often find myself teaching others how to do the same. And programming, more than many other topics, requires self-directed learning. It doesn't work very well under the existing "force fed" public education system... What you get is bored students who hate computers, and can't design anything much more complicated than counting loops that say "this class sucks 1. this class sucks 2. this class sucks 3. if this class sucks, then this class really sucks."

    In the hacker community, the self-taught hacker is often better respected than his academically-shaped peer, and the reason has nothing to do with a disrespect of education, but rather an implicit understanding that you just don't learn as well unless you're interested in the material and follow your own path through it.

    • by Microlith (54737)

      It's nice that you're happy to pat yourself on the back here, but I'm failing to see your point. Are you suggesting that they shouldn't do this?

      In the hacker community, the self-taught hacker is often better respected than his academically-shaped peer, and the reason has nothing to do with a disrespect of education, but rather an implicit understanding that you just don't learn as well unless you're interested in the material and follow your own path through it.

      People who are interested in the material will

      • People who are interested in the material will do well regardless. Saying that those who are self-taught and not "academically-shaped" get more respect is, at best, wishful thinking or egotism.

        You can take that up with Eric S. Raymond, the social anthropologist who studied hacker culture, and wrote this [outpost9.com] in Appendix D of the Hacker Dictionary, titled Portrait of J. Random Hacker. By all means, go ahead and tell him it was wishful thinking and egotism. Let me know how that goes.

        • by Microlith (54737)

          By all means, go ahead and tell him it was wishful thinking and egotism. Let me know how that goes.

          I would readily tell him so. However you're appealing to authority here. And you completely ignored my question.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          People who are interested in the material will do well regardless. Saying that those who are self-taught and not "academically-shaped" get more respect is, at best, wishful thinking or egotism.

          You can take that up with Eric S. Raymond, the social anthropologist who studied hacker culture, and wrote this [outpost9.com] in Appendix D of the Hacker Dictionary, titled Portrait of J. Random Hacker. By all means, go ahead and tell him it was wishful thinking and egotism. Let me know how that goes.

          The Hacker Dictionary does not even offer a pretense of objectivity - to suggest that a non-systematic summary of a straw poll on Usenet groups he frequented is sufficient for a 'social anthropologist' to draw sweeping conclusions about Hackers certainly seems like egotism. Generalising his own personal characteristics and views as being the views of all hackers is pretty much par for the course for ESR.

          • The Hacker Dictionary does not even offer a pretense of objectivity - to suggest that a non-systematic summary of a straw poll on Usenet groups he frequented is sufficient for a 'social anthropologist' to draw sweeping conclusions about Hackers certainly seems like egotism. Generalising his own personal characteristics and views as being the views of all hackers is pretty much par for the course for ESR.

            I was going off of the strength of what he's published; Freeing the Source: The Story of Mozilla, Code: Linux and the Open Source Revolution, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, The Art of Unix Programming, etc., all of which have been widely cited by open source proponents. But let's ignore all that, I mean, anyone can publish a book that gets picked up by one of the most respected names in the field: O'Reilly, am I right? Usenet at the time was a good representative sample of the community, in the same way Sl

        • Who said teh slashdot's aren't educational? There I was thinking it was the personal opinion, possibly with an element of tongue-in-cheek, of some balding oddly-proportioned herbert.

          Turns out it's a peer-reviewed article appearing in a recognized journal.

          What would we do without you?

    • For the tldr; crowd: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
    • by xaxa (988988)

      I think public education itself here is a major problem. Most children are being force fed knowledge and asked to regurgitate it on command.

      Except this is the UK, where it isn't that bad. (The current government is trying to make it worse, to go back to the "good old days" of learning lists of kings and queens, but anyway... they haven't yet done so.)

      The final programming exam (for a 16 year old) should look something like this (PDF) [aqa.org.uk]. The earlier questions are simple facts, but only getting those correct won't get a decent grade. Later questions require understanding.

      I can tell you why WWII happened, why Hitler had broad public support, show you pictures of him kissing babies, and not just say what happened, but why it happened.

      GCSE History, Unit 1 (PDF) [aqa.org.uk]. Topic 3:
      "Which was more important as a cause

    • School works out okay for some people—I made it through with consistent Bs and As (and only got Cs when I really couldn't be convinced to care, which was scarcely.) My high school actually did have a programming curriculum, three courses from grade 10 to 12, which was focused on business applications (nothing but VB, Access, and Turing; bleck.) I'd been programming since I was twelve or thirteen, though, so despite my teacher's best efforts, I knew at least as much as he did on pretty much every topic

    • If I'd stuck to the curriculum shoved down my throat in school, I wouldn't have gotten into computers. [...] And programming, more than many other topics, requires self-directed learning.

      This is a non-sequitur, a huge leap of logic. The curriculum you were given at school was bad. That demonstrates nothing more than that bad teaching doesn't work. This is not surprising.

      The problem in computer teaching is a problem of poorly designed curriculums, and teachers who often don't understand the technology they're working with. Worse, the curriculum is rarely provided to the teachers with full explanation of the curriculum design, so the teachers aren't aware of what they're doing or why. Th

    • by narcc (412956)

      In the hacker community, the self-taught hacker is often better respected than his academically-shaped peer

      That's just something autodidacts tell themselves to make themselves feel important.

      and the reason has nothing to do with a disrespect of education

      Sure about that? See any of the recent "is college useless" slashdot discussions.

      but rather an implicit understanding that you just don't learn as well unless you're interested in the material and follow your own path through it.

      That's the biggest problem with autodidacts. They tend to ignore important material that they don't have an interest in, don't immediately understand, or disagree with (because it doesn't appeal to their intuition or runs contrary to their existing beliefs.)

      They end up believing themselves experts in a topic, when in reality they're less infor

      • That's the biggest problem with autodidacts. They tend to ignore important material that they don't have an interest in, don't immediately understand, or disagree with (because it doesn't appeal to their intuition or runs contrary to their existing beliefs.)

        Really? Do tell me more.

        They end up believing themselves experts in a topic, when in reality they're less informed than a hipster Starbucks barista that took an undergrad course in the same subject.

        Wow! I had no idea.

        You know, it's interesting how you say things such as "That's just something autodidacts tell themselves to make themselves feel important." and then go on to say ridiculous things yourself, almost making it seem as if you want to make yourself feel more important (because according to your logic, saying such things means you're just trying to make yourself feel important).

        • Really? Do tell me more.

          It's simply human nature. Without some external force acting on you it's easy to focus on the things you find interesting/easy and ignore those that seem boring/hard. It's also human nature to rationalize & justify that.

          The external force is the properly designed & well balanced curriculum.

          Personal example: I'm self taught in Linux, but I don't compile from source because I had some problems with it early on. I might get round to giving it another go, but I might not. If

          • It's simply human nature.

            That's not really a good enough answer, especially when we're talking about people with actual motivation. The guy was acting every bit as arrogant as the person he replied to (who he likely thought was arrogant).

    • Most children are being force fed knowledge and asked to regurgitate it on command [...] by the time I was 18, I took my GED and went into college. I can't tell you who the first ten presidents of the United States are, or regurgitate the talking points of War and Peace

      It seems you can't tell the difference between your own experiences and those in a country thousands of miles away either.

  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Thursday June 20, 2013 @11:49AM (#44061249)

    Anyone want to comment on the connection between this gap, and the low salaries for software developers in London? (I'm basing this on the advertised salary ranges in jobs for London vs. jobs for other cities.)

    • by JustNiz (692889)

      I'm Interested to know where you're getting your stats from, as I'm getting spam from agents about contracts in London that pay quite well compared to the rates I'm seeing in the US.

      of course the real amount will be different because you have to factor in the difference in local taxes, cost of living etc.

      • I find the list of skills they ask to be overly wishful. If you had all they assumed you'd want double the money.
      • I can't remember exactly where I got my raw data, but it was probably a combination of job postings on LinkedIn and Monster.

        IIRC, the general trend I saw was C++ programmers going for about 50k-70k USD in London, vs. maybe $70k-110k typical in Boston and in Washington, D.C.

        I didn't think the difference would be explained by cost-of-living differences, because I've heard London is a pretty expensive place to live.

        • by 91degrees (207121)
          British salaries haven't really kept up with a declining value of the pound. So the salary of a software developer is pretty good compared with other fields that have a similar level of education (other than finance perhaps).

          I think there's a cultural view that GB£1 is about equal to US$2 even though this hasn't been the case since the 1980's. Salaries in the rest of Northern Europe are considerably better. I can easily make 20-30% more in Belgium or Amsterdam than I make in London, and as you
          • by Xest (935314)

            "I think there's a cultural view that GBã1 is about equal to US$2 even though this hasn't been the case since the 1980's."

            It was not so long ago. I got this exchange rate in about 2006/2007 and it didn't stray much below this in the surrounding years before and after. It's only with the financial crisis starting around 2008 that it really plummeted.

    • by mjwalshe (1680392)
      Its the same for all technical professions in the UK we are universally looked down upon as oily engineers who will get the carpet dirty
    • by xaxa (988988)

      Anyone want to comment on the connection between this gap, and the low salaries for software developers in London? (I'm basing this on the advertised salary ranges in jobs for London vs. jobs for other cities.)

      Compared to other British cities, or compared to cities where you live?

      I live in London, and I understand the salaries here to be higher than in most of Britain for most jobs, including software development.

      Salaries in the US might be higher, but I don't think software development is different to any other highly skilled job in this respect.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 20, 2013 @11:57AM (#44061329)

    There are 2 reasons programming was removed:

    1) It is difficult which means it isn't easy to mark or get good grades. It was simplified out of the curriculum to boost grades and thus give the appearance of the UK having good IT education.
    2) Our government was (and still is) computer illiterate and technophobic (except for spying on us) and saw no value in it.

  • I don't recall programming at my UK schools as part of core/compulsory curriculum in the 1980's and 1990's. However those who elect to study GCSE and/or A level computer science in middle/high school were required to learn programming as part of the 2 year course and programming project(s) had to be turned in that accounted considerably to the final mark.
    A quick Google gives that present GSCE computer programming project is 30% of final mark.
    I taught myself programming at home aged ~8 an onward. I took GC
    • by pjt33 (739471)

      Really? I did GCSE IT in the late 90s and I was unusual in actually doing some programming for the project. We didn't learn actual programming in the course, and most people just created some hyperlinked pages in an Archimedes multimedia package called Genesis. The handful of people who did CompSci A-level did do some programming.

      • I can only assume you had an exam board that didn't mandate a programming based project. Try goggling a few such as WJEC GCSE and you will see a programming project is core. For A level I had to write two pieces of software IIRC for core projects.
  • So a decade ago they stopped teaching computer programming in UK schools.

    And in the last decade, what... has London stopped being a major Tech Hub? Is there a shortage of good young programmers looking for jobs in London?

    The answers to both of those questions is NO. So *my* question is this - if teaching computer programming in schools or not teaching it has no discernable effect, why bother wasting time on lessons on it when they could be devoted to something else?

    • by waspleg (316038)

      I'm an American, so I can't speak for London. However, I also work in public education. I agree with you.

      I can also tell you that it will be a cold day in hell before they offer programming classes over Math/English when *everything* is being cut back consistently and dramatically year to year. There Isn't Enough Money (TM) is the incessant refrain and the answer to *every* Why not? There are various reasons why there isn't enough money. Most of them stem from corruption at every level; Federal on down

    • by Microlith (54737)

      This logic could be used to justify not teaching virtually any subject. The irony here being that computers impact our lives more than anything else these days, yet people on Slashdot will argue against educating kids in how they are controlled.

      • by waspleg (316038)

        The kids I see can't type. Some of them can't use a mouse. Most of them use CAPSLOCK when they mean Shift. ALL of them have cellphones, which they are much more deft at manipulating and are bigger narcissists than the vapid "stars" they idolize.

        Why should they be in a programming class when they can't form a complete sentence? I'm serious. It's really, REALLY sad in public education. The bar is far lower than I think most of Slashdot's audience even knows exists outside of the "Third World".

        • The kids I see can't type. Some of them can't use a mouse. Most of them use CAPSLOCK when they mean Shift.

          So your argument is what, "kids don't know how to use computers, so we shouldn't be teaching them how to use computers"?

          Why should they be in a programming class when they can't form a complete sentence?

          I can only assume you work in a school for children with diagnosed mental disorders. Either that or you should be calling social services, because they're clearly suffering neglect.

          If, on the other hand, your complaint is that they can't form a correct complete sentence, then that probably means you're using the wrong rules. It is all well and good that you want them to speak "standard"

        • by mpe (36238)
          The kids I see can't type. Some of them can't use a mouse. Most of them use CAPSLOCK when they mean Shift.

          I've seen plenty of adults use Caps Lock to enter a single capital. These include teachers.
          Some of them easily old enough to have been around when you'd press the Shift key on a typewriter to release Caps Lock...
        • by csrster (861411)
          Is that the kids on your goddamn lawn?
    • by xaxa (988988)

      if teaching computer programming in schools or not teaching it has no discernable effect, why bother wasting time on lessons on it when they could be devoted to something else?

      AIUI, they're replacing what's called IT, but TFA refers to as 'secretary skills' (using MS Word).

      • by pbhj (607776)

        Yes, rather dishonest to categorise Information [Communication] Technology as only secretarial skills. DBAs, video producers, sound technicians, web designers ... all secretarial positions apparently.

        I'm all for encouraging programming and consider that an element of programming can be a great boon to most people. However, this is being done at the expense of ICT which is also a great benefit to people. The majority don't need to be concerned with low level programming, algorithm efficiency and such; they p

        • by unapersson (38207)

          He's not, just talking about what's currently taught as ICT in schools. For a while now it's been about how to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint, i.e. Secretarial Skills. The scope of what's taught has been narrowed massively.

          • There's a place for all that, but it shouldn't displace the more technically oriented course. Offer both, let the kids choose.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The current crop of kids coming into the IT industry are shit. I'm hiring physics graduates as they tend to have the most coding experience. UK was a world leader in software in the 80s.

    • by Teun (17872)
      How is teaching an elementary skill wasting time?

      Please realise computers are contrary to 50 years ago an indispensable part of our life and teaching all some basics about the way these computers are run is never a waste.
      On the other hand I can imagine programming and it's ilk are fundamental logic and should/could be part of regular or enhanced mathematics instruction.

      That there has been no effect due to the lack of teaching computer skills is an wholly unsupported claim, for example we all know how irr

      • by pbhj (607776)

        >"Some basic training for all in the fundamentals of programming might very well improve the overall attitude to computer use and security." //

        Unfortunately computer _use_ and secure _use_ of computers is not really a part of computer science; that's more ICT really and ICT is what's being killed to make way for computer science.

  • Well, they had elective programming courses when I was in school...but I already knew how to code. I think I would have been more interested in electronics and microcontroller programming. That's something I'd also like to see more of in schools. The most I learned about electronics in school is that I got to solder together a couple of kits. Didn't learn a damn thing about them except how to solder and read the color codes on resistors.
  • If you are going to teach kids Maths, you have to teach them Codes as well, or at least Programs.

  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Thursday June 20, 2013 @12:49PM (#44061937)
    My two comments are make it fun. Basically if you aren't teaching them to make games or something internet related then you are wasting your time. Teaching fundamentals such as linked lists to people who are fundamentally not interested (the vast majority) is just cruel. But if you get them making simple games that get more and more complex then you might have them. Also getting them to do mashups or something like accessing the API of whatever is cool that week (snapchat, etc) might win some hearts and minds.

    Years ago I bought a book when learning SQL that blah blah blahed about genealogy. The guy was going to take you through building a genealogy database. So he starts off with a long boring genealogy tutorial teaching terms like matrilineal; boring. Why not keep it simple. Data goes in, data goes out. So keep the classes as fresh as possible. Even twitter APIs might be tool old at this point.

    But the next thing is good luck. My daughters are in a pretty typical public school system and no matter how hard the schools try to "Join the computer age" they can barely break out of 1985. A simple example of their "Hot new tech" is that they now have a robodialer that bothers me with great long winded messages that are often not even grade relevant. Have they not heard of email?

    So I can see a situation where you set up a bunch of students on Raspberry Pis that can be wiped (literally) in a flash and still end up with the school IT people saying that it isn't an approved OS, that you aren't running the approved software and that according to the rules you must teach the students the only approved language: Pascal.
    So for anyone trying to spill a small sampling of the 21st century into their schools, just remember that the school board might be worried about the students sniffing the ether out of your ethernet.
    • Basically if you aren't teaching them to make games or something internet related then you are wasting your time.

      When I was in high school, I managed to expose a bunch of classmates to TI-83 graphing calculator programming when I showed them how to load programs that run the formulas seen in unit conversion problems, stoichiometry, and the like. Tie the programming assignments in to the rest of the curriculum and you'll get the point across that computers are tools to automate things.

      according to the rules you must teach the students the only approved language: Pascal.

      Why can't Free Pascal [freepascal.org] be recompiled for the Raspberry Pi?

    • by pbhj (607776)

      They already do things like game design - eg using Scratch in ICT programs.

  • Let Tim Gurney have a look at How To Design Programs, which is free to download and cheap on paper.

    It teaches Scheme, which is an easy way to get a toe in the programming door, and you *can* subsequently do really awesome things with it, not just make trivial games.

    See http://www.ccs.neu.edu/home/matthias/HtDP2e/ [neu.edu]

    -- hendrik

  • by walterbyrd (182728) on Thursday June 20, 2013 @12:55PM (#44061997)

    Want more people in CS, and engineering? Provide good jobs for those people. Stop offshoring like mad. Stop giving the few remaining jobs to lower paid visa workers.

    There is a reason, a very good reason, that students are avoiding IT studies.

  • The UK already has a plethora of organisations working in this area including, but not limited to, Apps for Good, Young Rewired State, Computing At Schools, Code Club and Digital Makers. If you have time and skills and want to work in this area please don't start yet another organisation - find out how you can bring your enthusiasm to an existing one.
  • I look at this as a failing of Centralized decisions on Curriculum. If a whole country or a whole region decides on a slate of subjects, classes and goals, they had better get it right (btw... they NEVER do). If these decisions are made at the local level, you get thousands of different possible courses of study. Suppose you have a budding programming prodigy, and the whole country is tied into these (flawed) standards. You have nowhere to go, except outside the system.

    Conversely, if City A decides tha

    • If a whole country or a whole region decides on a slate of subjects, classes and goals, they had better get it right

      How right? 100%? This isn't like rocket science, where if one little bolt shears really bad things happen. In any case, the definition of "right" changes over time.

      if City A decides that every kid should grow deep in their understanding of Coal Technology, and City B decides that Algebra and Python are important

      What about when city C (which is probably in Kansas) decides that the Earth is

  • Computer Science is a theoretical discipline pertaining about things that you can make programs do and how programs are structured. It has always seemed to me that programming languages are just a tool that you learn on the side. Then again, I learned multiple programming languages before I finished high school, so my perspective may be a little skewed. What I can say is that my software designs after formal CS theoretical training are much better, because I'm smarter about how I go about solving problem

  • by echtertyp (1094605) on Thursday June 20, 2013 @03:08PM (#44063647)
    Even more than in the U.S., the U.K. has a culture where those with hard skills are dismissed as doing "grunt work." I think it is part of the unfortunate British heritage of class consciousness, where the ruling class was (and is) proud of their lack of domain specific knowledge and their role as management generalists. This has been disastrous for the fortunes of the U.K. in general, but culture is hard to change.
  • Teaching content which requires programming; science, engineering, language emulation, biology, robotics, etc.; is a "two for one". They learn content and then use programming to analyze and explore that content. Programming without context is useless for most people.

  • I started out BASIC programming as a hobby with my first commodore machine aged 12, then took the computer studies option at school between age 14 and 16. This involved plenty of background theory (binary, octal and hexacedimal maths, plus some laughably ancient hardware stuff like having to know about magnetic core storage) and lots of practical BASIC programming on the then excellent BBC Micro which was used in most schools.

    As my exam coursework I created a basic but fully functional option driven library

  • by ItsIllak (95786) on Friday June 21, 2013 @05:04AM (#44068485) Homepage

    ...but the government isn't one of them.

    We now have Code Club, Coder Dojo, Coding in Schools and half a dozen more individuals and groups working towards roughly the same goals. Each one of these groups is effectively cannibalising each other's target audience. All these people at the helm of each of these groups needs to be congratulated and then locked in a room with all of the others until they can agree a single national plan.

    Personally I've gone with Code Club and teach a weekly hour class in my kids' primary school (kindergarten). I've brought one set of kids through the first of three "terms" of coding, been given 3x RPi to give out to semi randomly selected members of the club and plan to do a better job next year. The weekly tasks do a pretty good job of introducing practice in the basic concepts of programming (variables, variable scope, loops, conditions etc..) but weren't explicit enough to allow the kids to use them outside the context in which they were taught. To be honest, I think much of it was done by mimicry rather than understanding.

A penny saved is a penny to squander. -- Ambrose Bierce

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