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

My head teacher won’t let me teach computing

I thought I should follow on from the last post “My ICT teacher can’t mark my homework“.

As I have mentioned a few times, I belong to the utterly excellent group called Computing at School, it is made up of over 700 ICT teachers and people who want to help improve computing in schools. Over the few years I have known of it I have seen many online conversations, most general calls for help and weeping on colleagues’ shoulders about typical teaching frustrations. (I imagine these are common, am not a teacher!).

But recently there has been a noticeable uprising of the JFDI kind, with people making and sharing lesson plans and resources, a definite rise in collaborative energy to kick this ICT and computing discussion into touch. And get on with doing it.

As these horses appeared to bolt from the gate, jockeyed by enthusiasm and a good glug of sheer bloody-mindedness,  I have watched as slowly many of them have fallen, beaten back time and time again either by heads who won’t consider even a computing club, or as today a senior management team who over-rode the supportive Head, with the reason given being (and I am quoting from the post):

  •  Computing is too difficult for the small number that would want to do it (the ‘small number’ being half the GCSE ICT lot).
  • ICT is more useful for a larger number of students.

I am not speaking out of turn here in saying that this is a very common theme and a common argument and it drives me insane and most of the teachers in the group were wearily starting to accept defeat. I have also, to my utter despair, seen members of Young Rewired State fall at the same hurdle, where they have gone into schools and suggested running computing clubs or events, only to be patronised and dismissed.

There are so many counter-arguments to it aren’t there? But you know that in fact, these are not the real reasons, if they were Physics would not be taught, nor music, nor high-jumps, back-flips or burpeez – who cares right?

So is it that the teachers can’t do it?

I don’t think so, there is plenty of enthusiasm to learn and more and more collaborations with local industry people who will lend a hand. Besides learning programming should be something explored and learned together – teacher and pupil, that’s what makes it exciting. It is also not hard, despite John Humphry’s best efforts on Radio 4 yesterday morning to make learning programming sound like learning how to navigate to the moon (and change the wheels on the rocket launcher).

Is it that the text books are too costly?

One person in the CAS group is writing a free one, as I am sure are many of you in Coding for Kids and the general community if you think that is what it will take. There is so much free and open source technology out there – it’s not expensive.

Is it that pupils are taking ICT as a soft subject they will easily pass, adding programming will skew the figures?

Given the ICT ‘A’ Level in this instance required no previous GCSE qualifications to get in, and the curriculum is easy to walk students through writing what they need to say in order to get a high grade. So pupils and the senior team *like* ICT as it keeps the average grade high for the school – (but the pupils in question here are so fired up by the programming this teacher has been teaching so far, and he is worried that removing it from the lessons totally will cause merry hell. It’s fun you see…)

I don’t know but I suspect the latter is more likely to be the case, it makes more sense – I think we might be starting to peel back the layers and it feels like we are beginning to see the actual problems.

You see, this is good, because once we have identified the real problem facing schools, it is far easier to help address them and ask for the right changes to be made to support the many teachers and volunteers who want to help.

So I leave you with the question. If schools were *allowed* to take a hit on their GCSE and A Level grades in ICT whilst programming is taught alongside the necessary ICT skills – what that work? If schools were rewarded for introducing programming as a part of the STEM subjects (computer science) separately to the grades achieved during transition, would that help?

The CAS google group is open and you can go read the thread for yourself, it’s title is: Well that’s crap

The Guardian tech weekly podcast on tech skills and education

The lovely Aleks Krotosky chairs a live podcast that was recorded on Monday night (before the Newsnight thing Rory did) and published today. I am on the panel alongside David Willetts MP, Dan Crow from Songkick and Prof Jeff Magee from Imperial College London.

Go and check it out and listen here

The Newsnight thing that Rory did is online now and is defo worth a watch if you are interested in this subject, it is available here

The Mozilla thing I was referring to is this and here is an event you could get involved with if you want to do more with Mozilla

The resources I mentioned using with Amy for introducing kids to code are here

And tonight I am hosting a BarCamp at the Guardian on Kids and Coding with Caper and Katy Beale, bringing communities together – tickets are all gone, but the hashtag to follow is #codingforkids but please do register as there may be a chance that you will be able to get in, and we will be setting up a Google Group

Last but by no means least, there is a grass-roots community of IT teachers and those who want to help support IT in education called Computing at School – it is incredible, do go and sign up for the Google group, and please do see what the teaching community is talking about – it’s great.

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