Open Government Data *wince* it’ll take a while… Open Education – next September? No probs

Bear with me, I have a point.

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, today delivered a complete coup de grâce for ICT education by accepting wholeheartedly that ICT education, and indeed the cross-curricular syllabus, was fundamentally broken. He accepted that traditional methods for mending a broken bureaucratic, micro-managed education system would not address the immediacy of the problem, and so he threw it open to the floor.

He made Open Education possible (potentially mandatory) in one speech, and he heralded the Government’s move into…” it’s over to you, gang, do your thing”.

To be fair I am obliterating much of his speech here, but the bit we are most interested in is the fact that Government has seen the problem, examined it and accepted that the answers probably lie out there – somewhere on the Internet.

Let me be clear, this is a good thing - Open Education is the future - BUT YOU CAN’T JUST SPRING IT ON US!!

We need to be able to relax about certain basic human needs: education, health, environment (getting the money in to pay for this through tax, our direct debit to government) and we have to assume that the elected governors will take care of that for us, with the right people helping and advising, steering and delivering – without brain-bleeding charges to the public purse. (Martha Lane-Fox took time and focused advice on how government delivered its open online presence, resulting in the Government Digital Service – which took years to curate, even after her report was published and it is still in its infancy.)

We know about Big Society and we know that the world and its borders are opening up and it is becoming fundamentally digital. We know this and are all pitching in as and when we can, but we definitely still look to government to horizon-scan and come up with a scalable, secure plan for the future – that goes beyond:

Have you *seen* this website? Codecademy.com is awesome

Yes… it is, but…

Let’s pretend

Let’s pretend the education system was the tax system.

Our tax system is fundamentally flawed, we all know this. It’s:

  • Not fit for purpose
  • Deeply complicated
  • Is still run by people working without access to the Internet
  • Requires experts to explain information that could be easily garnered from the web (free – if you have the time)
  • The OFFICIAL BOOKS measure in inches, if you intend to master it yourself

Have you *seen* this website? http://www.justanswer.com/ is awesome <- link chosen to back up point, not after in-depth analysis

The fact is that out of all the 28,000 teachers who qualified in 2010, 3 – THREE – were computer science majors. Three chose to go into teaching, the rest chose to reward their hard-earned degree in the City, or on their own start-ups.

Why?

Money

Money is the elephant in the room here that no one wants to address. It takes money to solve this problem and we do not have money, as a Nation, nor most of us as individuals – not disposable income at any rate, and believe me – it will take many people with disposable income to help solve this across the UK. Hands up, anyone?

What if this was tax?

What if we were saying:

Yes, OK, the tax system is not fit for purpose and fundamentally flawed. But we are not going to spend years over-hauling the tax system and doing what we as government usually do! We say – Yes! You are right… you are vocal and on point in your suggestions so yes, go forth – and fix it… it’s still mandatory, natch, but you can do what you will with all the resources available to you on the Internet. Lots of industry leaders in accounting are going to be making up some new measurements, but it’s OK – we know it’s broken and you have the answer, so go on then :D we will be doing stuff over here…

I am being facetious

Of course I know this would never be the case. Of course I understand that the tax system is way too tricky for me to make such an analogy.

In my opinion if we do not treat education in the same way we respect tax, or even open data – then what exactly is democratic revolution all about?

How can we accept and wholly applaud a Government measure to turn education over to the ‘people’ when it is so utterly broken? This problem has been highlighted ad nauseum (more to come on Friday with the RSA report saying pretty much the same thing as everyone looking at this in any depth).

The issue has been accepted as a given – yes, it’s a terrible state of affairs, thank you Mr Gove for accepting this. However, you cannot step away from the fact that the solution lies in a big collaborative effort between industry and educators, between large and small businesses, corporates and social enterprise – all working in happy harmony with schools, full of children, children whom we protect (rightly) with stringent rules – particularly when we are talking real-life interaction with children, not just digital (but even digitally :/… ) this stuff does not vanish in a well-intentioned speech.

Are we sensible in being so care-free with our youth? Is education really the space where we feel most comfortable throwing open the doors and embracing Open principles without further thought? Let’s face it, Open Government data has been a minefield of risk aversity and open-eyed horror  – but Open Education can be rolled out on a whim, because micro-managing didn’t work?

I worry that in the excitement over freedom granted today to educators for something so utterly fundamental as Computer Science in the UK, so the doors open to frozen blind panic from schools and teachers, turning to potentially unethical opportunists wanting to make a buck and chaos and failure as the result. We cannot afford this.

I worry about publishing this post as I campaign for Open practice, loudly. I have campaigned hard for government to debate the subject on teaching our kids to code – please sign the petition, it has a long way to go… but if a subject is swept away in a general wiff-waff of ‘go forth and educate yourselves’ that we miss a proper, tax-payer funded (probably quite pricey) look at every issue raised – not just the problem. I also fight for Open Data. I welcome collaborative process.

Anyone who has googled Chaos theory will have a basic understanding of the fact that change is exacted through chaos. But also, that chaos is carefully crafted. And studied.

Much though it pains me hugely to say it – we have to keep pushing for a debate. We need this to be taken seriously. Education is not low-hanging fruit.

Today was great, but it was not enough. And I am so sorry to be saying this.

Teach our kids to code e-petition

So after declaring that this would not become a personal mission for me in my post: year 8 is too late it has become a personal mission.

The petition is appallingly written. In my defence it was a brutal, and random, word count; I had to keep removing chunks of copy and keep trying to submit it, until suddenly it worked (no the word count that it eventually allowed through bore no relation to the word count originally stated… bug?). Anyhow, this terrible prose means that many have tried to explain it through writing their own explanatory blog posts and I thought I had better have a bash at explaining the background better myself.

What do I mean by code?

The word coding is a slang term for computer programming, used because programming basically means writing source code. Source code can be written in any number of languages (such as Ruby, Python and a gazillion others) and is the method used to instruct a computer to execute a series of actions. These actions are understood by the computer in what is known as binary code, that lovely series of ones and zeros loved by Hollywood futuristic films

http://www.digitalproductionme.com/pictures/gallery/Stock%20images/Binary_code_on_blue%20for%20web.jpg

Lovely

When I wrote the post about teaching kids to code in Year 5, that this would address the nerdy image and encourage more female coders, I was focusing more on the immediate and tertiary “brand” issue that geekery has in this country. It is not yet awesomely cool to be able to build digital tools that shape the way the rest of us operate in our worlds, both social and work-based. Not in the UK anyway. And I could see this having a profound effect on our worldwide digital economy and reputation in the very near future – this drives me insane and I just could not understand why people were not a bit miffed by this.

Then I read a book called Program or be Programmed by Douglas Rushkoff please buy it and read it, even if you just read the Preface and Introduction, it is one of the most important books of our age. Here is a bit:

The real question is, do we direct technology, or do we let ourselves be directed by it and those who have mastered it? “Choose the former,” writes Rushkoff, “and you gain access to the control panel of civilization. Choose the latter, and it could be the last real choice you get to make.”

When I read this book – my slight irritation at the fact that programming was not taught as a part of the curriculum, nor indeed seen as important by parents – it became a far greater philosophical concern, and one that I thought I had to really throw myself into doing something about.

I want my children to have choice, to be able to operate the world they grow up into, not just be driven by it. It’s not just being able to code, in any case, it is understanding computational thinking, really being aware of the value of the frontal lobe over the relative intelligence of the computer programme – are we really going to allow our kids to blindly stumble into a future so utterly dependent on digital tools and products, without giving them the chance to be the demi-Gods who sit behind these things, telling them what to to, and thereby us what to think?

Ben Hammersley used to say to me, the Foreign Policy of this country is not what the Foreign Secretary says it is, it’s what Google says it is. You could argue this fact, but it is broadly true, and now you could perhaps replace ‘google’ with ‘twitter’. Ben has transcribed a speech he gave to the IAAC – please go and read it, it is similarly essential reading.

Rushkoff says in his book that the difference between being able to code and not being able to code, is like being the driver or the passenger (not, as some people think, the difference between the driver and the mechanic). Think about that for a minute, and take a look about you, it’s true.

http://rlv.zcache.com/pause_for_thought_black_text_card-p137452235662050689tdn0_152.jpg

Now I am very definitely not alone here. Many people are making lots of noise about this: writing stuff, lobbying Ministers, pestering the Department of Education, meeting, planning, tweeting – you name it, it’s done. The movement is definitely gathering energy and people are beginning to come together around this topic. All I have done, apart from Young Rewired State of course, is start the e-petition bit of this process; as it is the only way we have a real hope of this being debated in Parliament, even if it is in a year’s time and even if it is not guaranteed to be debated, even with 100,000 signatures.

But what it *does* do, is give everyone who is out there a public place to point, with a decent number of signatories: 1,180 it its first 7 days and growing. (We do need to up its rate of growth if we are to reach 100,000 in a year, but this is why understanding the need for it is so important.)

Please note:

I am NOT saying that teaching programming in schools should replace ICT. ICT teaches you how to operate the digital tools now so paramount to our lives, of course we still need what we can fondly now refer to as traditional ICT. However, it is only half the story – we need to start teaching the other half, and fast.

Please sign the e-petition, and share it, tweet it, blog it, send it to your mate who is in the media and get them to talk about it.

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/15081

Tim Rogers, a Young Rewired Stater and one of the founders of the fabulous Silicon Britain blog, has written his own piece on this, and it is worth hearing the voice of a young digital star http://www.siliconbritain.com/2011/09/computer-science-in-the-uk-is-year-8-too-late/.

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