Year 8 is too late (part 2)

A whole year and a half ago, in August 2011, I wrote a post called: Year 8 is too late, this post is an update to that one, because – worryingly – this is not recognised as an issue. To me it is blindingly obvious and I suspect it is to most people when you stop and think about it. Back in 2011 the reference was to educating girls in computing and less about the fact that programming was not being taught in schools – which has obviously become the topic du jour, thankfully.

So I would like to reiterate the problem and outline the solution:

  • children are not being taught digital literacy in our schools
  • knowing how to use software products and shiny kit is not the same as being digitally literate
  • understanding how the web works is a fundamental right for every person living in the 21st century, how else can we know and understand how and what choices are made on our behalf (read Douglas Rushkoff Program or be Programmed on this matter)
  • if in the UK we outsource the building of our ideas, because we have failed generations by forgetting to teach basic programming skills to keep up with technology, we become irrelevant muppets
  • spending time and money on fabricating a tech base in London, on a roundabout, is a complete farce if we are simply shop fronts with the technical talent having to be outsourced/imported because we neglected to educate the people who are learning in the UK
  • naturally, if we want to move towards equality in technology, we must ensure we afford the girls the opportunity to learn at an age when they are excited and searching for more stuff to learn – ie in junior school, or from birth
  • children are being taught to fear the internet rather than understand it, with schools restricting more and more access, rather than enabling them to understand what digital citizenship means; leaving them abandoned at 18, naive, unprepared and scared of what might happen, perpetuating the myth by avoiding too much understanding and simply being consumers of code-driven technology
  • the current solution is being authored by exam boards reinventing the ICT GCSE – this in itself is a problem because this is the hardest place to start, it is way too late, but everyone assumes the solution is on the way – it is not
  • the DfE can’t do anything about this other than highlight the problem, the schools have autonomy over what they teach and how – maybe we should have a policy change, I am not sure, but schools have the onus on them to address and resolve this
  • schools do not currently have access to the talent that can teach programming and there is no way to use traditional teaching methods – the industry moves too fast
  • computational thinking is not taught as standard – this is ridiculous
  • digital literacy is not seen as core. Digital literacy is as core learning as numeracy and literacy, “computeracy” is a terrible term but it MUST be understood to be as fundamental as maths and taught
  • this discussion is so old and in spite of much being written and understood about why this is important, nothing is being done, properly STILL(!) this is a national disgrace, we should be ashamed of ourselves
  • we have not even yet managed to incorporate digital learning in the classroom, so terrified are we, yet look at what is happening in South Korea simply enabling learning beyond the classroom is a start, certainly for learning how to code
  • we are falling behind all other countries by doing nothing more than shaking our heads at the problem and perhaps attending a one-day course on coding
  • even more worryingly, some of the solutions being mooted in schools involve ideation only, coming up with an idea for an app, then the creation of that app outsourced to India (getting them to do our kids’ homework) I think this is criminal and exacerbating a problem that is already terrible
  • computer science, including programming, is a new and separate subject, it is not a version of ICT, nor some newfangled way to do business studies, it is a separate and new subject for schools and should be inducted as so
  • our Universities do run computer science courses, that unsurprisingly do not require any ICT GCSE/A levels to qualify for the course… as a result of this, much of the programming section of the computer science degree is taken up by teaching young adults GCSE level computing – this is embarrassing and explains why few self-taught developers will bother going to universities, which means they miss out on the stuff they would really benefit from learning at University, plus the other immeasurable ’rounding off’ being in further education brings – this is not fair
  • if your child is ten or older and they have not begun to understand how the internet works and how to program, or even just computational thinking and logic – it is going to be hard for them, and that is unfair
  • there are jobs, thousands of jobs, unfilled, in this country alone – for programmers of all levels from technical leads to absolute beginners – and it is only going to get worse as more and more children leave school without 21st century basic working skills. At a time when we are broken and heading for triple dip recession, how can this not be seen as insanity? What the actual ****? Teach those kids those skills, get them into those empty jobs – kickstart the economy… no-brainer

Here is my fist stab at a solution to all of the above:

  • teach “computeracy” as a part of the core curriculum from year 5. Here is some advice from Matthew Applegate on what to teach at what age:

Year 5 = 9-10 age Computational thinking, logic, cause and effect (try Scratch, Google app inventor or Lego Mindstorms all visual based programming) or even Game Maker.

Year 6 = 10-11 age Should definitely be coding (try Processing very visual very quick feedback and free see http://pixelh8.co.uk/category/programming-in-schools/ for code examples and http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2009/11/teaching-kids-programmers/ )

Year 7 = 11-12 age try XNA, iPhone & Android dev the program doesn’t have to be complex or world changing you just have to show them a way in. Also they love being able to use and create on up to date tech.

Year 8 = 12-13 age some of the best iPhone developers are 13 years old.

  • stop thinking of it as a nice to have and understand that it is a human right to be digitally literate and therefore have some measure of control and choice in the 21st century
  • encourage every child you know age 10 or under to become digital makers – find and use those online resources, for example Mozilla’s web maker – designed for everyone, let it be natural
  • fight hard, ask your school, don’t think it is being dealt with – it is not
  • learn how to teach basic programming and computational thinking and get down to your local junior school and offer your services – in the same way you would go and listen to kids reading, it is just as important
  • focus on the under tens, I am afraid the 10yrs+ kids are going to have to fight it out for themselves if they are so inclined – if they have not already done so
  • let the exam boards work on changing the structure and content of computer science GCSEs/EBACCs and A Levels, but be prepared that this will be a long-burn slow-win until we have taught the basics to the junior school kids

21 responses

  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    As I understand it, links in the brain around language begin to be lost fairly quickly – so there is argument to suggest that foreign languages ought to taught in early years education. Programming is a language too, with its own vocabulary and syntax – so shouldn’t that be introduced, in the most accessible ways, early on too?

  2. I agree with the underlying sentiment, however ….
    Whilst we still have nearly half a million teachers in the state sector who don’t necessarily share your view and enthusiasm, a few well meaning volunteers tecahing coding in clubs will be an elastoplast on a huge gash.
    Actually, we need to teach the teachers, not the students. And they are not going to sit down and listen (at least the vast majority arent) unless they are forced/cajoled/incentivised to do so from above.

    • I think teaching teacher how to code and then expecting them to impart the knowledge is possibly a very convioluted way of doing it. Making it a priority and then enabling peer-to-peer learning (as we do in Young Rewired State), encourage exploration in and out of the classroom, use the classroom as a curated room to share knowledge and bring in experts from community/work, don’t expect it to be tradtitional teaching methods that solve this problem – open education is what we need

      • I’m not suggesting that we should teach every one of the 400K+ teachers in England how to code. I am suggesting that we need to raise the digital literacy of the vast majority of them. If not, then what you will get is a huge gulf and disconnect between the digital literacy of the teachers and that of the pupil cohort. Kids will become disenchanted, as they are ‘forced’ to use tiresome manual or non-digital methods in problem solving right across the curriculum.
        If the teachers do not understand what the pupils are doing, they wont accept it. They will mark it down.
        And then we will be heading towards digitally induced disenchantment with our education system.

  3. I learnt some BASIC at school – sent the card off to the ‘local’ computer (!) and got the results back a week later. DI remember composing (?) some nice programs on the ZX Spectrum I bought too. I LITERALLY wouldn’t know where to start now though, beyond the basic href mailto type functionality. And I’m interested. What’s needed is some useful pointers, for parents and teachers as well as youngsters. (But I guess I digress from the post’s theme at this point).

  4. Sorry to have made you repeat yourself, Mulqueeny, but thanks for the pointers. I’ll certainly look at them and see if I can get anywhere! :) (I do do WordPress)

  5. Excellent post. Until schools are evaluated on provision of digital literacy then will continue to make the subjects periphery to their curriculum. Including Computer Science in the EBac would be a way forward. The EBac contains the core skillset that we all need to fully appreciate and interact with the world we live in. There should be no way for schools to “fudge” league tables and be rated without the inclusion of EBac subjects as is allowed presently.

    Clubs, festivals and other initiatives are brilliant, but as the previous commentator highlighted it will not solve a generation’s problem – the change needs to be in schools, on the curriculum and be embraced by our other national providers such as the BBC – the literacy project in the 80s did so and made us perhaps the most computer literate society in the world.

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  10. Throwing up a fairly old post now, but I have seen some progress made towards these goals – albeit not in my school…
    Computing as a GCSE is now more available – I have seen a few schools in my area taking it up!
    Saying that though, my school had the perfect opportunity to give their students a fighting chance in the big, wide world of making the stuff for the public to use – but no, they are stuck in the dark ages and actually added another btec to the lists…
    Since then a ‘coding’ club has started up – for year 7s only – in which they use Scratch or Microsoft Expression Web (similar to dreamweaver) to drag and drop elements, which while getting them into the coding idea does nothing to help them learn the practical languages like Python, PHP, even HTML and CSS.
    Also the school have blocked ALL external ports, mostly so proxies won’t work, but also blocking off codecademy’s development environment… :facepalm:
    I’ll forward this to my IT teachers and SLT hopefully so they can actually learn the merit of getting this in school…

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  13. Thousands of jobs unfilled in this country <- This isn't really a fair portrayal of the situation. The jobs are unfilled because employers are ridiculously fussy, and the easy availablity of labour enables them to be like this.

    Employers aren't just looking for 'someone who can code'. They're looking for someone with exactly the specific skills and experience they want. I went to a top university and learned all about the fundamentals of programming language, but they're not interested in that. They want someone with 5+ years of C++, 3+ years of .Net, 2 years of SOAP, 6 years of Windows development…

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