Young Rewired State 2014

So this year Young Rewired State (YRS) is six years old, believe it or not! We are still wholly focused on those young people aged 18 and under driven to teach themselves how to code, introducing them to open data and a community of their peers.

Of course the campaigning we at YRS and Rewired State have championed and supported to encourage more people to learn programming has meant that there are many more opportunities for learning now. Kudos to all the many organisations such as Code Club, Apps for Good, Decoded, TeenTech and Coder Dojo (to name the ones we know well and love).

This means that the YRS community has grown at an incredible rate over recent years, as it helps other young people learn from and teach each other. They hone their skills through building apps, websites and games, writing algorithms and parsing data – more often than not, solving real problems and challenges they experience.

This year we are doing three big things…

ONE: YRS/Google assemblies

We have a great community of hundreds of young people, most of whom do not go to the same school. They come alive when they talk about their skills and the community – and so we have teamed with Google to offer every person in YRS a sponsored assembly.

The YRSer will be helped by a dedicated YRS mentor to prepare an assembly, using slide decks, videos and YRS and Google schwag.

The point of these assemblies is for the young people already in the YRS community to tell their peers about what they have done, what they can do, and the support from Google shows how important their talents are to a multi-National brand every child will know (and probably want to work for because of the beanbags, slides and The Internship movie). It also challenges the familiar media view of nerdy, often male, programmers.

The videos I have used in this post are the videos we have made specifically for this project

Two: The Festival of Code will be International & the finale weekend will be held in Plymouth University

Every year we run the Festival of Code in multiple centres across the UK. This year we are including the centres outside the UK. This means that the festival now includes all the young people who have taken part in a Young Rewired State: Everywhere (YRS{e}) weekend around the world, and the community reaches across borders and Nations. This is the point of YRS – to create a networked community of young people worldwide who have grown up with open data and peer-to-peer learning.

Plymouth University have been incredibly generous in their offer to sponsor part of the cost and host the Festival, and house the YRSers over the weekend, meeting their challenging Wifi and power needs – and enabling us to continue to run the Festival now that many hundreds, tipping over a thousand young people, take part. Thank you so much!

(Travel to Plymouth will be arranged!! Planes, trains and automobiles will be activated – maybe holding the finale in Plymouth will encourage the YRSers to invent the flying car we were all assured in the 70s was going to be the vehicle we would be using in the 21st century).

Register as a centre, mentor or young person for the Festival of Code here: https://youngrewiredstate.org/ (it costs nothing to register or attend, it is funded through sponsorship. Feel free to apply to be a sponsor: emma at rewiredstate .org)

Three: YRS Hyperlocal and Rewired State/ly

We also announced that YRS Hyperlocal will happen in centres across the UK post the Festival, where the YRSers will be able to work, in the Festival centres that choose to opt in, with each other and mentors to take their Festival prototypes to product. At which point we will hand them over into the safe hands of partners we trust (morals/ethics).

We also announced Rewired Stately: a free Rewired State event that is happening in the last quarter of 2014 for programmers aged 50 or over, whether these be newly minted programmers or life-long, at which we will introduce them to open data and the rest of the RS/YRS community.

For more information on either of these programmes, email hello@rewiredstate.org

Please note: we do not teach kids to code… we bring together those who can code, from rudimentary knowledge to poly-codal, and take them forward to the next challenge – solving the real world problems 

Assange, Swartz, Manning, Snowden: you get it, right?

A fundamental part of being a human nowadays is that if you don’t really understand something, you are pretty certain that someone somewhere is an expert at it; and if it is a matter of global political discourse that many people know about it, and not only *it*, but all the tiny *its* that are a part of the big *it*, that obviously some University or other is studying, or has studied the facts for years and the next generations are far better equipped to deal with the complicated future. (I think I might just have stumbled on the formula for Radio 4).

We take heart from the academic inquisitiveness, so we don’t all need to know the nuts and bolts of what is causing us to have a slightly uncomfortable feeling – because the current and next generations are getting ever more clever and brilliant. Phew…

Assange

What: Wikileaks

Common understanding: publishing lots of things through a site called Wikileaks

Scary: because there is no control over what is being published

Phew: he is being held in a room in an Embassy in London and (weirdly) the government people went and oversaw (not sure if that is English) the destruction of the Guardian hard drives containing the information, which should be OK

Swartz

What: Committed suicide after being arrested for illegally downloading academic journals

Common understanding: young geek allegedly caught stealing/illegally downloading academic journals with a mind to publish them for free. His suicide was a nasty shock and no one can ever know why, but the court case and litigators were mighty, so that was probably tough for a young person

Scary: someone actually died

Phew: freely publishing academic journals, whilst wrong, does not sound like it threatens our security – this was just a single, and very sad, case

Manning

What: leaked restricted documents

Common understanding: a US soldier released classified documents to Wikileaks

Scary: who knows what is in these documents

Phew: she (Manning has since changed sex, but this is unrelated) has been caught and punished

Snowden

What: leaked details of mass surveillance

Common understanding: US and UK government agencies can read our private email and messages

Scary: not sure we want government agencies of any country reading our emails

Phew: maybe they will intercept the terrorist emails and not illicit sexting, and someone will work out whether this is right or wrong – meanwhile Snowden has not been arrested yet so it is not something to be too worried about… but we had better be a bit more careful about the illicit stuff and what we say in emails “haha @jamesbond *just joshing* (please disregard this message)…”

Obtuse

I am being deliberately obtuse here to illustrate a point. If you are not news or politically minded, I could point to the completely baffling business models of modern day organisations: twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat – where is the revenue model? Someone obviously knows something, I mean of course there is an ad revenue in services such as Google, but *ha* I will not be caught out by those suggested ads so that won’t last. And I must protect everything I put on Facebook because Mark Z is going to sell my data to someone, which might mean I put my family at risk, so I had better just be very careful what I put on FB, and occasionally lie to wrong-foot those would-be thieves/burglars/bad people. (Also what I write in my emails in case the FBI is monitoring me).

Thank goodness, we cry, that we are from the last century and can reminisce fondly on our first experiences with computing. These digital kids, we can’t even begin to understand their world…

“… why I even have to get my son/daughter to help me dm someone on twitter… ha! Vine? I like mine bottled not digital… kids nowadays, they are the digerati!…”

But yet

  • in schools we do not teach children the basics of programming, the language of the digital world – this is changing next year in the UK with the introduction of coding in primary and secondary education so in 15/20 years time we will have lots of people grounded in the digital basics in the workforce
  • we stopped teaching programming in schools over 20 years ago therefore there is a huge generational gap in the mass market of people who actually have a grasp on the digital revolution
  • very few people worldwide actually understand and drive the digital direction, because it all happened so fast and generation upon generation assumed the education system was keeping up
  • there are more and more demands on a rapidly dwindling and ageing digital workforce by analogue institutions, trying to ram digital renaissance into creaking infrastructures
  • *those in charge* of the next generations, including us parents, make it our life’s work – no it is our duty – to limit, deny and restrict access to the digital world, that superhighway of paedophiles and porn because someone else will be educating them in all the stuff they actually need to know in this digital future, the educational and politically important stuff that someone else knows all about… right?
  • our kids spend their lives online, they need to get offline and play, take an interest in the real world (that world that drives stories such as Assange, Swartz, Manning and Snowden)

I hate to scare you, but the reality is that our children need to be online, our duty is to give them digital freedom to explore and learn. The rules are not yet made for digital citizenship, our children need to define, shape and abide by them. Not just in keeping safe. Not just in understanding whether Assange, Swartz, Manning, Snowden are right or wrong. Or whether a business based on reach of message to mass communities is a viable model. Or what open data really means.

The current drive to teach our kids to code is being built on a sand-bound argument of economy, but I challenge this. We need to actively find ways to educate our children and ourselves in the basics of the Internet, of information, of data, of sharing, of algorithms – computational thinking.

Because, if we don’t, an ever decreasing number of us will actually really understand, and an ever decreasing number of us will shape the future. And history has shown time and time again that this way madness lies.

Young Rewired State – an update

For any of you who are unaware of Young Rewired State, here is a video from this year’s Festival of Code

To date we have made it our focus to find and foster every child in the UK driven to teach themselves how to code; to support them through community and peer-to-peer learning, and introduce them to open data, primarily open government data. If you would like to read up more on what we do and why, here is a White Paper written by Dominic Falcao, a student at York University.

So we have come far in the last four years and as we enter our fifth year we really are going hyperlocal and global – as I mentioned in a previous post.

Since that post I have had some very great discussions with developer communities in several regions outside the UK, including Berlin, Amsterdam, New York, Kenya and San Francisco – and the narrative has become more clear, why this is so important and how this very well could be the beginning of a game-changing, independent, worldwide community.

Let me explain…

The idea is to start as we did in 2009 in the UK with one weekend in a number of International regions. Find 50 local children, aged 18 or under, driven to teach themselves how to code, and introduce them to open government data in a traditional hack-style event. During these weekends these young programmers will be mentored by their local coding community, as they are in the UK, but as well, they are remotely supported by the worldwide members and mentors for YRS, through twitter hashtags and IRC channels.

If history can repeat itself over the following five years, each of these first 50 will continue to be mentored and add to their number, growing to 500 in five years, maybe more – and then becoming hyperlocal.

The dream is for a child in Berlin to find it completely usual to be supporting a child in New York, for example, with a local civic problem, or just in their learning. For them to grow up expecting and understanding open data and open borders. And almost more importantly to be forever a part of a worldwide community of like-minded people – never again coding alone.

The beauty of this network is that it is so local, we are working with established developer networks and organisations in all of the countries, and as these children become 19 they *typically* fold back into Young Rewired State as mentors. This is important as it creates a support network for teachers and educators worldwide that is so needed.

We work also in partnership with those organisations teaching young people to code, giving them somewhere to continue the learning through collaborative, peer-to-peer education that can scale according to talent and desire.

YRS Scotland

This weekend sees the very first of these hyperlocal events in the UK, with a group of young programmers in Scotland starting their YRS journey. You can follow the action and add your mentor support by following the hashtag: YRSSCO2012 on twitter.

I really do believe these children can actually change the world, and I am grateful to the huge community who have supported us in the UK and overseas to get to now.

We are run as a not-for-profit social enterprise. Here is how you can get involved

Buy yourself something pretty

Earlier this week I wrote about the wonderful story of raising the £20,000 needed for the hardship costs for kids joining in with YRS2012, I was overwhelmed by the number of people celebrating and joining in with that success – love it.

This week also marks the six months since I received the following email:

CONGRATULATIONS!

You have been nominated by Mark Surman to receive a Shuttleworth Foundation Flash Grant to work with Young Rewired State.

It came out of the blue and was for $5,000. An amount that is enough to be excited about and feel like you just won something, but is not a scary sum with strings attached that adds to your endless list of deliverables.

This money came with no strings, I could do whatever I liked with it – so long as it was for Young Rewired State, of course, not red wine and taxis (well… ), I was to be open about the project (no change there!) and I was also able to use the Shuttleworth Foundation logo for the following six months on the YRS website. There was a request though that at the end of the six month period, receivers of this Flash Grant should write about how the grant helped them – so here I am.

Funnily enough the timing could not be more perfect. After raising the £20,000 for YRS2012 I have thought a lot about how exactly the right amount of money can be the difference between powering forward and screeching to a halt.

Meeting Mark

I had met Mark Surman, Executive Director at Mozilla, for the first time and for a very brief hour, about a month before this email from the Shuttleworth Foundation landed in my inbox.

I talked about Young Rewired State and Rewired State, he spoke about his plans for Mozilla and the education space.

We riffed about what really drove us, the passion we had for the potential for the open web, open data and open education. How young people were really growing up into an incredibly exciting world and that we were in the middle of that rennaissance period, it had arrived. We spent the hour we were speaking using everything we could find to draw all over, diagrams to show the patterns we were weaving in our minds of how this all fit together – all that lovely stuff.

[We did not write on bananas - this is just a brilliant picture]

But whenever Mark asked the more probing questions about how I thought I might achieve any of this, how YRS could scale, how my own personal enthusiasm could make any difference other than to those I directly affect – I was unsure. I could see the end game, I could sense the potential, it all felt right and I *knew* it was big – but I was not sure how I should play into that space and indeed if I should. I blustered and bluffed but I didn’t fool anyone.

I always knew that I would continue with YRS, regardless of anything, my heart lies in it, it is a wonderful thing, it will always benefit some people and I loved doing it – but was what I was doing enough?

Now I had never met Mark before, but I knew of him. I love Mozilla’s ethos and brand identity and Mark’s dude creds were formidable. I remember days and days of reading and following up on links he had recommended – it was just one of those moments, we all have them, a meeting where you come away just buzzing your tits off and with renewed enthusiasm and shutzpah.

The Shuttleworth Foundation

So then, a month (ish) later, I receive this Flash Grant and notification that Mark had recommended me for it. It was the combination of these two things that really turned things around, I believe, for Young Rewired State and its huge growth this year.

Since I received that email and proudly displayed the Shuttleworth funded logo on Young Rewired State I worked hard to focus my thoughts and plans. Because of the faith shown in me to really achieve something with Young Rewired State I felt almost like I had been dared to push the boundaries of what I hoped to achieve, to find a way to scale. For some reason this free money and this massive slap on the back gave me more motivation than anything in my entire life so far – I can’t explain that.

Scaling like a scaly thing

So this year Young Rewired State has grown from 100 young coders and 14 centres in the UK in August 2011, to 500 young coders and 50 centres.

This is an amazing jump but it is not the only change.

One of my favourite moments in YRS (and the same thing happens every year and makes me all emotional) is the moment the individual young developer walks into the centre on the Monday morning, not usually too much confidence knocking about and often used to coding alone in their spare time. They see ten other kids in the room. By the Tuesday they are shining, collaborating, learning, teaching, competing and getting excited. (At this point the emails usually start from parents, telling us how profound an effect even two days has had, the confidence, excitement and energy they see in their child – trust me, these emails floor us all, lots of gulping). Then on the Friday all of the centres come together for show and tell and they walk into a room of 100 other kids, exactly like themselves and their confidence and excitement shoots up to a whole other level.

By the time they finish watching and taking part in show and tell – a community is born and it is these moments that drive the YRS alumni to return year on year to foster and mentor the new YRSers.

Now I recognise that this is nothing whatsoever to do with me, this is just what happens when you create the right environment for this magic. That YRS does this, is happenstance, it was not concocted. But I also know that it is one of the most important things that happen during the week.

But what would happen if instead of only one crazy day of show and tell followed by a race for trains back to everywhere in the UK, these kids had more time together?

We did the only thing any sensible tiny organisation that runs on the smell of an oily rag could do and morphed that Friday show and tell into a weekend of coding and collaboration. A festival of code. We picked up the phone to the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park and asked them if they would mind if we camped on their lawns, and they were delighted, excited even!

The YRSers will pitch tents, code, have talks, eat pizza – they will also do their show and tells and battle to win prizes, fame and fortune – but they will be together from the Friday through the weekend.

What greater nod to scale can there be than finding that one thing that holds the magic in what you are doing, and making that better?

So whilst it is a huge thing for us to be hosting so many more young coders this year – the fact that at the end of their week of coding in centres across the country, the community gets two days instead of two hours together this year – that’s the proper win.

Finally, of course, the $5,000 has gone towards YRS2012 and I would like to extend an enormous thank you to both Mark Surman for recommending me in the first place, and to the Shuttleworth Foundation for awarding me the grant for Young Rewired State. You have no idea how much of a motivator that was – I hope you enjoy the show this year and that next year we can begin to scale the festival of code.

Trust – some thoughts

Yesterday I posted a tweet that said this:

Trust is an under-rated value metric that defines so much of what we do, I think. Trust in your own decisions, plus other peeps/orgs

This was after being at a point in my life and with the organisations I am trying to scale at the moment, and how my lack of trust in myself was driving some of the decisions that I later regretted because I should have trusted my own abilities.

Followed by a small crisis of self where I questioned whether I just had trust issues, and so I did a little drawing of those I would trust with my life, my children, my house, my business, my decision-making process and for advice. I found that actually I had a very broad base of people who I trusted without question – and actually I naturally chose to trust people initially, only withdrawing faith when burned.

I am relieved about this, and it was an interesting thing to consider when I thought about organisations and institutions and how they design services – and how they design services in the main with a lack of trust – but that things were changing and so on. Open data, open organisations, all the things I like to think about, indeed live.  It was an interesting thought process anyway – feel free to ponder on!

Today

So today broke with a letter from Hackney Council with a parking violation fine, with photos, from my old car that I had presumed was safely in locked storage in Ripley, Surrey, indeed I had declared it SORN last April. This triggered a series of events that progressively eroded my newly found trust in trust and still lingers on as I write, with a continuing saga of ever-more ridiculous and illogical happenings.

Stop reading here if you just want to navel-gaze trust – from here on is a little bit of a venting post…

What happened before today:

1. I had a car that I was choosing not to drive any more as it had had a tiny crash :), it was super-expensive to run yet was not worth losing my no-claims bonus for and so I wanted to keep it, but not do anything with it for a little while as it was a classic, not worth much but a classic all the same

2. I went to the garage I had traditionally bought all my cars from and explained I wanted a small, practical car and was no longer going to be driving the *dinged* beast (they sold me the beast in the first instance)

3. They asked if I wanted to leave it in their lock-up, said the lock-up was huge and they didn’t mind but it would be officially off-road until I decided what to do with it – I trusted them and believed that they meant the words they spoke

4. I bought another car from them, gave them the keys to the beast and went on my merry way – I trusted them and showed my ongoing trust by buying another car from them

5. Several months later, I decided I would go get the beast and do something with it, now I had some time

6. The garage told me that I was not allowed to have the beast back, that they had taken it upon themselves and had fixed it and were hoping to sell it for £1995

7. They said that I could have the beast back if I paid them £860 for the work they had chosen to do, or I could sell it to them for £300

8. I called the police

9. The police said it was a civil matter until and unless the garage actually sold the car they could do nothing. They recorded the details and gave me a reference number, but said I should keep them posted and alert the DVLA

10. I explained to the garage that I was not paying the ransom, that I had reported this to the police and I expressly was not allowing them to sell the car for any amount, let alone £1995

11. They then said that they would sell it to recoup their costs in fixing the car – a job I had not commissioned, they had not asked permission to do. I said they were not allowed to sell it, they said they would scrap it then and so on and so forth (with swears) Imagine if that happened to you when you popped your car in to get the starter motor fixed, or sommat. When you go to collect it they tell you that they have popped a new engine in (without asking) and it would cost you xxx to get the car back, they sell your car and… or if it was your house, and a roofer came and fixed your roof without asking then sold your house to pay his bill – you see where I am going…

—–  a brief pause in the story, I chose to not continue the row, it was a stalemate, the police couldn’t help, I was not keen on fisticuffs at dawn with a used car salesman so I decided just to leave it all until it was thrust in front of me again, as I knew it would be ——-

And so here we are today. This car that they said that they would scrap, that I still own, was photographed in Hackney at 08:08 on the 27th January 2012. I had declared it SORN, as far as I knew it was in a lock up being held ransom when all that had happened was they had offered to keep it in their lock up, with no time period or charges.

I called them, no response, and then called the police and then this happened:

1. The police said that it was horrific but that it was a civil matter and until they sold the car, no criminal offence had taken place, but a civil one had and told me to contact the CAB

2. The garage *texted*(!) to say that they had sold the car

3. I called the police and said that they had now claimed to have sold the car so it was now a criminal offense right?

4. They said it was still a civil matter and could I call the CAB and DVLA

5. I called DVLA who said that someone had taxed the car but that it was still legally in my name

6. The CAB said that it was a criminal matter but referred me to Consumer Direct to see what advice they had

7. Consumer Direct said that it was theft, therefore a criminal matter and I had to go back to the police but that they would report the garage to Trading Standards, but were keen to emphasise that they wanted me to keep them in the loop

8. Meanwhile the garage was now sending me text messages saying that they were transferring a debt to the bailiffs for the cost of them fixing my car (without my permission) and storage of the car(!) ending with a final text that told me to f*** off and they would see me in court

9. I called the police again and they are having a little think and said they would call me back

So now, my trust is eroded. I have no faith that anything will happen by anyone. The car people who had my regular business over more than three cars and the justice system, which seems to be so lily-livered that they cannot see this series of events for what they are because, presumably, they do not trust that what I say is true – even though I have raised the same story officially over many months and have a car that is legally mine, being sold (maybe, who knows) or at least driven without my permission.

If you apply this abuse of trust to any situation, any property and see the chain of events, then it is clear that this car is stolen. It was held to ransom and now stolen. But no one can work from a basis of trust with me, that what I say is true.

And my own trust in people has caused this whole situation to occur. Had I been less trusting and insisted on written agreement that they were taking my car for an unlimited period for no money, signed and so forth I may have a better hope of proving all this. But even then, this can all be faked can’t it? I imagine I would still be in a terrible situation.

Meh – that’s off my chest, but yes – trust, for me it is going to be an issue for a while. And if I end up in court over this as the defendant, which you can completely understand may well happen, then bring me twiglets in jail.

*update to post* 06/02/12

The Police have been in touch over the weekend, which was very diligent of them. They have spoken to the person in question at the garage and say that he is basically claiming that he sold it because I had left it there so long and that he had repeatedly asked me to take it away. Half true, he had said that I could have my car back if I either sold it to him for £300 or paid for the work £860 he decided to have done to it in order to sell it. He had not been in touch with me at all in between the break down of those discussions and me being sent that photo of the car violating a parking order, during which time he decided to sell the car.

So, basically: I had not paid his ransom, so he sold my car – blaming me for leaving it there, but he would not allow me to take it away! Crazy

Luckily I had kept all text discussions with him and have turned these over to the police so that they can see for themselves. They have said that these messages do back up my side of the story but there is still no way to prove intent. So the police can do nothing. They say that he has clearly broken civil law and that I should instruct a solicitor and take him to court.

Kidnapping a car must be illegal.

Anyhow, another point. I have been inundated with appalling stories of other people, many far more vulnerable than me, being taken advantage of in similar fashion and I know that I am moaning about a very small thing that I could have ended by just paying the guy some money. Some of the horror stories I have read and heard are so sad and make me very angry, but makes it all the more essential that I try to stand up against this. But anyway 1. I did not have the money to pay him. 2. It was a principle.

The question now is do I name him?

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.

Open Education and freedom to teach computing

I think anyone vaguely awake in the education and digital space cannot have failed to notice that 2012 is the year of Computer Science, of coding and kids. 2011 was a cacophony of noise about why this was so terribly important, and 2012 is reaping the rewards.

Government is making commitments for fundamental change and industry is running out of developers fast – and kids have no jobs.

In September of last year I wrote a blog post about how Open Education could work; indeed people have been writing about this for years but it was only really at this point that you could see anything actually happening.

Teachers and freedom

Can giving teachers freedom to teach a subject in any manner they see fit possibly work? This is a fundamental change from the micro-managed curriculum we currently enjoy, with the focus on exam pass-rates and associated funding streams.

I am not wholly sure that it would work easily and immediately with other STEM subjects, Science, Engineering and Maths – it can definitely work with Technology. But boy is it going to take some doing.

Speaking from experience

My eldest daughter is 14 and goes to a school that has just attained academy status, specialising in brilliance in Science – this does not include computer science. Me being me I have been a royal pain in the backside, whilst trying to be helpful, speaking to the deputy head about all I was doing in the coding for kids space and how my experience and contacts could help the school up its game with teaching coding and computer science.

Six months ago they ignored me.

Three months ago they called me in for a meeting.

Two months ago they asked for help.

One month ago we made a plan:

  • inter-form hacking competitions
  • programming computer club working with free online resources, local geek industry and gaming bods
  • an annual assembly
  • participation in Young Rewired State for the coders who had already taught themselves how to programme

This is the stuff dreams are made of. Relevant cross-curricular learning, with a skill that not only de-nerds coding, but simultaneously teaches each child something about programming the digital world they live in, regaining control, knowledge and new Summer jobs. What’s not to love?

Well…

The reality

It takes a lot of work and time to co-ordinate and set up a computer club with local enterprise and free online tools. Done individually, school by school, this will fail at the first missed meeting.

Senior schools operate on a time-poor, information-rich merry-go-round of priorities and logistics. There is an awful lot of information that needs to be imparted in very few hours over very few years – you can only imagine the eye-bleeding decisions that have to be taken.

As a result, senior schools are not the most malleable of organisations to effect immediate and affective change, regardless of good intent and recognition of a problem. New stuff has to become a part of the old stuff – traditional corporate change mechanics: communication, education, management, reward, story-telling and so on.

I tell you – even with one school, regardless of the work I do with Young Rewired State, Coding for Kids and Government – this could be a full time (voluntary) job.

So, I still hold out hope that in 2012 this school will be able to live its dream of being one of the first to market – but there is no kidding about the fact that this is a behemoth of a task.

How can this scale? We’re stuffed

I can hear the Computing at School teachers sharpening their pencils to send me a strongly worded letter about how they are succeeding in their own schools without parental interference, thank you very much – I know. But you face the same problems I saw, I think, judging from the posts on CAS.

So, let me be clear, I have read up on this subject, I work with young programmers, I am a parent to two children, one (aged 9, girl) obsessed with programming the other (14, girl) not so much – so it is with this that I plant my flag firmly in the camp of Year 8 is too late.

Senior school is not the place to focus attention right now. Yes, there will be things that can be done, that teachers can do – but the seeds of need must be planted in junior education.

Equip our young, time-rich juniors with the basics of computer science, take time to make it fun and exciting across the curriculum. The children will then enter senior school with an enthusiasm and expectation that is simply not there right now. And senior school teachers will, for a while, have to play to the masses who see no relevance at all between their BBMing, Facebooking and Tumblr blogs and what they could potentially be learning at school.

Trying to solve this problem with a top-down, managerial (half-hearted) cry to throw open the digital doors in Year 8 and force change in education and interest is going to be a long and bloody process. If this is the way we choose to go, then accept that it will take time, money (lots of money) and it will affect the whole of the education system, not just ICT reform.

Can we focus on the long term by paying attention to junior schools and exciting those teachers and children? And can we work with the kids currently negotiating their way through senior education who have already applied the principles of Open Education by teaching themselves? Young Rewired State focuses relentlessly on these kids and I can tell you the need to support them gets greater every year.

In light of this please can I encourage anyone reading this to still take the time to sign the e-petition and to consider supporting Young Rewired State.

Before I get slated by the Computer Science purists, coding is only one bit of computer science, but it is the only bit I know anything about.

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