Guardian feature on the future of computing education in UK
March 31, 2012 5:13 PM   Subscribe

The Guardian has a feature today on computer science education in the UK It includes short interviews with teenagers who use coding (for fun or work), an article on encouraging girls to get involved in computer science, an editorial encouraging an overhaul of the UK's system of teaching computing, and some discussion of Young Rewired State, a group that offers "festivals of code" to help kids learn to "program the world around them", and also encouraging use of open data.
posted by chapps (19 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
How enlightened!
posted by Renoroc at 6:10 PM on March 31, 2012

I didn't realize how many of my fellow (high school) classmates were at least curious about the technical aspect of computers until someone mentioned offhand the idea of starting a club for programming. It's surprising to see how more students were interested in a casual club compared to the actual programming courses that are officially offered at school. Maybe that says something about the attitude some have towards computer programming; they at least want to test the waters.
posted by quinlan at 6:33 PM on March 31, 2012

Obviously people have a bias to see what they do as the most important thing in the world, but I kind of feel that basic programming should be taught to kids along with basic math in school.

Programming isn't some dark art. It's easier to learn then calculus, and the really basic stuff is probably easier then algebra we teach kids in middle school.
posted by delmoi at 7:01 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

What a fun read. Brittain succeeds socially one again and the Guardian explains it with clarity and punch. If universities get involved with reinforcing high school curriculum good things are bound to happen.
posted by Meatafoecure at 7:45 PM on March 31, 2012

Sounds like a great idea. I remember discovering programming when I was in primary school; fortunately my dad is a scientist and was a FORTRAN coder from way back and one of the admin people at my school, who also wrote educational software, got me started on C64 BASIC. Of course, all I wanted to do was write games. Then I got to high school where "computer skills" classes were forty minutes of a teacher reading out instructions for opening files in Microsoft Office from a book. I bet the only change since then has been that now they have to explain that ribbon thing.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 8:32 PM on March 31, 2012

I read point nine and thought, "you know, I could actually see myself, a few years down the road, being interested in teaching computer science to kids." maybe this is because I have a child of my own now and I want to expose her to what it is that I do, but I'm not sure if the reason matters. My next thought was, "...if they could match my salary, or at least give me a shorter working schedule with corresponding pay that would match my current rate were it hourly." How likely is that? Doesn't seem likely here in the US. I get the impression it's not very likely in the UK either.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:15 PM on March 31, 2012

I'd love to send my cousin's son to that kids coding day. Sadly, couldn't afford to fly him to the UK for it. If anyone knows anything similar in the Victoria BC area, let me know!
posted by chapps at 9:18 PM on March 31, 2012

It is an amazing initiative. I am lucky enough to have been a Judge at Young Rewired State since the early days. It is astonishing seeing what they come up with - the lack of fear, the radical vision, the focus on what they as users need, the automatic adoption of "agile" approaches, and the sheer fun! Very proud of my peripheral involvement :)
posted by fallingbadgers at 9:58 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

The UK Government has no commitment at all to technology education. This week Michael Gove axed the technology unit in the Department for Education. There are no plans to implement widespread high class computing training across the country.

I don't doubt the commentators above are sincere and forward thinking, and what they want is all good. But what is happening in the England is very far from a new technology dawn in education. I just so wish that technology advocates would develop a bit of political cynicism and recognize when they are being played.

OK, let me be as fair as possible - what is happening will allow some schools, where there is local staff enthusiasm, to develop better technology lessons. The GCSE exams (age 16) will be upgraded - I have a meeting with my publisher to discuss writing a new text book in about three weeks - but it will be up to individual schools to decide whether to offer it or not. I personally hope there will be loads, as they will buy my books.

But as progress in developing technology skills will not contribute to the school's standing or funding, there will be no systematic enhancement of technology in the UK.
posted by communicator at 1:31 AM on April 1, 2012

But of course my disappointment isn't really with the comments above mine. I am powerfully disappointed with the general naive optimism of the computing community which is letting Michael Gove impose his weird views on our education system.
posted by communicator at 1:46 AM on April 1, 2012

communicator, I think you're being slightly over-cynical. School CS teaching in the UK has been in the doldrums for decades: simply allowing a return to true CS teaching (rather than pure ICT skills training) in secondary education is a big shift & one to be welcomed. Yes, Gove has a bunch of weird ideas, but that doesn't make this particular change a bad one.

As it happens, I'm part of this new zeitgeist myself: I've been running CS Unplugged style Computer Science sessions for the Key Stage 2 classes in my local primary school. I decided early on that primary age was probably a little early to launch into Church-Turing equivalence, so I've been concentrating on making what computers do "real" to the children: showing them the workings of the early computers, then getting them out in the playground "being" a computer. I've had them implement a 5-bit adder with individual children as logic gates, which has worked very well. Not quite a whole CPU perhaps, but hopefully enough to show them that computers are not just black boxes that they play games on. The feedback I've had from the teachers has been very positive indeed so far.

If anyone would like a copy of my lesson plan & links, then feel free to MeMail me.
posted by pharm at 1:53 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, letting UK education jargon slip in there: Key Stage 2 is the four years of primary school from ages 7-11.
posted by pharm at 2:02 AM on April 1, 2012

I think you are being under-cynical pharm, but that's a good thing for a primary school teacher to be I would think, in tough times for your profession. One of the side effects of Gove's indifference is that individuals with good ideas like yourself can grab the chance. But overall the system will worsen, I am sad to say. Meanwhile, people with good ideas, quietly getting on with it, may serve to keep the flame burning.
posted by communicator at 2:26 AM on April 1, 2012

I'm not a teacher communicator, I'm a working CS type.

Gove does appear to be nuts, but that doesn't mean that everything the government does in education is automatically bad.
posted by pharm at 2:33 AM on April 1, 2012

Hey look, I'm a programmer!

In all seriousness, imagine the sorcery we'll see in the future if six-year-olds already learn to code.
posted by quoquo at 6:27 AM on April 1, 2012

I'd be interested to learn more about the UK situation.
The first link is an open letter to Gove with criticisms about the education plans in the UK.

the author is a technology journalist, perhaps it would be interesting if they ran a similar critique from a teachers perspective (or someone familiar with how educational policy plays out in the schools)

I did really like that he linked computing to citizenship.
posted by chapps at 8:31 AM on April 1, 2012

You might be interested in the proposed computing curriculum for schools (PDF) - I don't think anybody has linked to it yet. These plans are developed with Microsoft and Google rather than independent of commercial interests. I don't know - some people may feel that is fine, I have my doubts.

I think the curriculum is a little old-fashioned, and its approach to programming and algorithms seems more 1970s than 21st century.

And it is limited to purely technical understanding. The content on 'the internet' covers packet switching and routing but nothing on intelligent use of modern communications - caution in what we share, what we believe, how to protect ourselves, how to develop adult intellectual skills.

More widely I would say that those who expect the best are comparing an ideal vision of how computer science might be taught in the future with the worst examples under the old ICT curriculum. IMHO there needs to be room for both types of learning - both under-the-bumper learning of the nuts and bolts of programming, and learning to be a wise sensible computer user. Most people will use computers as a tool for productive work of other kinds, and they need education to help them do that. Not all - perhaps not most - schools have been able to deliver that kind of education, but the answer is to help them to do it better, not to scrap the idea altogether.

And without help the majority of schools will not be able to deliver this more technical curriculum either. And won't try - as they no longer have to.

Sorry I have so much opinion on this subject and it's kind of getting away from me as I try to type it.
posted by communicator at 10:04 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks, communicator.
posted by chapps at 10:54 AM on April 1, 2012

The computing curriculum for schools linked above is put together by CAS (computing at school) and it builds heavily on some extensive collaboration with Google and Microsoft, as communicator says. It also has to be seen in the context of the recent Royal Society report which says, inter alia, that we need to ditch the term ICT and think more clearly about what we want to teach them.

What our kids need is three separate things: digital literacy - that's stuff about how to intelligently use computers in the everyday; they need IT which will help them produce systems made from parts of other systems (mail merges, databases, etc.); and they need computer science. A lot of this debate centers around the concept of "Computational thinking", and is often oversimplified into "teach our kids to code". But I think that computational thinking in its broadest sense is going to be one of the 21st century's most useful skills.

I'm not a schoolteacher (I'm a university lecturer) but I spent today in a room with 20 kids between the ages of 8 and 14, a bunch of laptops, some LEDs and resistors and a bunch of lilypad arduinos. There are fun things out there and cool ways to teach this stuff; yes the teachers are underskilled and undermotivated. Yes there's problems with staffing, curriculum, and so on. But there are lots of us who are stepping up and doing innovative stuff (like YRS), and I get the feeling that it's a movement on the rise. It's actually huge fun to see kids pick this stuff up - and for me the really sad thing is that for many of the kids in that classroom with me today, they'd never seen code before.

Be it a 3 day easter vacation workshop on arduino or a full blown computer science GCSE I think it is important that we at least show kids some code and give them the chance to work out if it's for them. I sometimes hope that one of the kids we see passing through our curriculum enrichment courses will get into it and go on to do something remarkable. Maybe it'll be that cheeky 11 year old girl who lined up 14 pink flashing LEDs this afternoon.
posted by handee at 10:19 AM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

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