Open Education: It’s not impossible, it’s already here

Imagine a world whereby our borders are open, where data is open, where organisations are open… where education is open.

Those of you who read my blog are pretty au fait by now with the open principles of data and organisations, and we live in a world of pretty open borders – so now, just bear with me through the open education thing.

There is an almighty (thank goodness) brauhaha at the moment about teaching programming in schools, indeed upping the interweaving of digital teaching throughout all subjects (beyond googling the best essay ever on any given subject). But there is the huge gap in enthusiasm amongst the young generations – relatively easy to solve – and the ability of teachers to teach all a young person needs to know in this future digital world, one that many have not grown up in, let alone been taught how to teach, this is harder.

But is this a deal breaker?

Many (many many many) people say to me: but I taught myself how to code and I am fine, I have a career and I do well, if it was taught to me maybe I would not have found it so interesting.

Fair point, but you are all over 25. The under 25s do not agree – well not 100% anyway.

So I think that we can accept, just by reading all there is online right now about this subject, that there is a need, a very real need; and it is not just for the younger generations whom we may be letting down by not doing anything about this. Can we take that for granted for the sake of this post?

However, there is a big problem that we need to be addressing at the same time as we fight for recognisance of the need to teach 21st century computing – and that is that the teachers we have now, indeed the teachers we are training now, are not equipped to teach this.

I am a part of a network called Computing at School, and have recently been included in their google group. This group is full of teachers who are supporting each other, sharing resources, introducing people from outside the education community who are programmers, are building software and hardware (open source), or who are parents with rudimentary knowledge or extraordinary knowledge – robotics anyone? or those just wanting to help somehow.

In this google group I am a party to many conversations between teachers crying out for help and information, and helping each other. They share links, wack up a wiki when a subject gets too big for just an email list, bring in industry experts – and all in their spare time. Those teaching Computer Science degrees helping the primary/secondary school teachers and vice versa. It is all an open forum, anyone can ask anything, and they do. I cannot tell you how humbling it is to read some of the conversations, enthusiastic and daily, sparked in this group – and it completely negates the publicly perceived view that this task is impossible because the IT teachers are crap. It is simply not true.

Yes, many of them did not train in IT, but they trained as teachers, and as teachers they take the education of the UK’s next generation extremely seriously. (I am sure you can all haul out a rubbish teacher to point to, but let’s play to the masses and not the exceptions). These are people who love what they do and want to do their best, they know that they need help to get this right, but I do not see any reticence there.

What I do see, is the occasional call for help – to assist with making the case for changing the stuff they are teaching, often a cry of:

The head gets it, but will ask the *usual* questions. Anyone help me?

Now I am not a teacher, so have no idea what these questions are, but taking a wild stab I would assume that they are on a par with the senior management teams in organisations who can only approve things if they fit with industry approved measurements of success – and struggle when there is no such thing (yet).

Yet schools are already being forced to move into measurements not yet measured. Schools are no longer valued just on the say so of Ofsted (oh I know it is still a big thing, but for how much longer, open data?)

Open education?

Well, it’s not impossible it is already here. Computing at Schools is an excellent example of open education. The head of ICT might not know how to teach Python to a bunch of 9 year olds and make it fun – but Mrs Miggins down the road does.

So please, when you hear the counter-argument to teaching kids to code being that teachers can’t do it, that’s not true, they can – it will be a good decade until they are officially trained to do so, but even then all they really need to know is how to teach, then they can choose what they teach, and it is an ongoing learning path, I am sure (unless it’s Latin or Ancient Greek).

Until then, let’s nurture open education. If you can code and know that you might be able to help a teacher, or write some open source software for use in schools – please do it.

I would encourage everyone to start with Computing at School (CAS) as it is already here and already plugging right into the heart of the teaching network. CAS is a grass-roots organisation and that is the only place we can start. Top-down simply will not work – anyone think we will still be learning Scratch in 2020?

Let’s accept that government has a lot to do and that it will take time to make the necessary policy changes, and let’s make sure that our voices are heard as people living in a democracy, use the petition system, the voting system and the fact that we are actually allowed to speak to our politicians, and they will listen (again please let’s play to the masses not the exceptions here).

But at the same time, let’s just do what we can to make it all work a little bit better in the mean time. Besides, we can experiment (a bit) and if we experiment with the best minds we can lay our hands on (in an open education way) then the risk is greatly reduced.

And I think the next generations will forgive us for trying, they may not forgive us for giving up. I hope they wouldn’t anyway.

Please take time to sign the e-petition –

And here is a link to Computing at Schools –

13 responses

  1. Excellent! Love it.

    Very much in tune with my own thinking… now I just need to post my own thoughts on the subject in more detail.

    BTW – you shoulda linked that Google Group in the body of the post. As soon as you mentioned it, I wanted to find it! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Open Education: It’s not impossible, it’s already here | Educación a Distancia (EaD) |

  3. Oh Emma, I admire your energy and enthusiasm, but it seems that for the umpteenth time, you have done a volte-face, and are saying the opposite of what you were saying the last time I tuned in.

    I notice today, you’re attacking the people who say “I taught myself how to code and I am fine”. But the evidence you gathered after YRS2011 was that YRSers are almost entirely self-taught. What happened to change your mind? I don’t accept your claim that the over-25s are different, and I’m not sure we can “take that (something? what?) for granted for the sake of this post”.

    You aspire to influence government policy, and that means we need clear messages, backed up with evidence. As you said on this blog on August 10th, Want to make sure we build the evidence and do this properly – it’s too important to risk – for all young coders, not just the girls. I agree with you on that. So, can I ask some questions?

    What is it you don’t like about GCSE Computing?
    Do you want the whole syllabus ripped apart?
    Do you have ideas for improvements to it?
    Do you think it’s basically okay, but not enough schools are offering it?
    Do you want it augmented with teaching that starts several years earlier? Do you think there’s a problem with demand, because children (girls esp.) don’t think computing is “cool”?
    Do you think there’s a supply problem, because too few teachers know how to teach hands-on programming?
    Do you want to lobby parliament for radical changes to the education system?
    Do you think the classroom is the wrong place to teach programming, and children are better off learning through play, learning peer-to-peer, with mentoring?

    I’ve heard you say “yes” to all of those questions at different times on this blog over the last six weeks, but I’m not hearing a coherent argument that would persuade MPs or head teachers or school governors to support change.

    • Hi Gordon,

      Thanks for your comments. I think it is important to mention that I use this blog to post about things that I have either learned or am pondering, and want commentors to explore these ideas with me – if they fancy. This way it really helps me think about things better. I have never pretended to be the font of all knowledge, nor to be personally lobbying government, or being a part of any proper lobby thing – but I hope that some of the things I write about other people might also think about. I am also often wrong, and yes I imagine I do definitely contradict myself when I learn new things that proved me wrong in the past. I would never read my blog and assume that it is anything definitive. It is always my own ponderings, mixed with others and scattered with caveats that I am probably wrong.

      To come to your comments specifically, some of them anyway, some I simply don’t know the answer to:

      1. I was not in any way attacking anyone, the self coders are amazing, I completely salute them and think that they are geniuses. I just think that this is unsustainable for the ambition of our country, to rely on self-motovated people teaching themselves in their spare time. However fabulous they end up being, there will not be enough of them.

      General answer to your questions about GCSE computing, I have nothing against it, an dhave said repeatedly, although this may be spoken and not written, I will have to check, that ICT is desperately needed and we need to keep that. We just need to address the other part of computing: programming. It is a separate and additional thing.

      I am afraid that your questions on the GCSE syllabus are not for me to answer, I have no idea, a teacher would know.

      I don’t think that coding should simply be the remit of those interested in computing either, I think that this needs to be something that is taught more broadly and relevantly in other subject, not just ICT.

      Thank you for taking the time to ask me these questions, though.

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  5. Pingback: Open Education: It’s not impossible, it’s already here | Agile learning |

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  7. Hi Emma
    I just came across you and your work recently and I admire what you are doing. I have a couple of questions.

    Your point about under 25s wanting to be taught: how did you form your view about that? Is it anecdotal, or do you know of research about how different generations respond to educational approaches?

    If there is an appetite among young people for more structured teaching in software development, I agree that we (older generations) should try to meet it, BUT I also think we have a responsibility to challenge them to stretch the boundaries of their problem-solving abilities independently. Partly because formal higher education is so expensive, partly because there are now so many resources for people to gain a quality education informally, but most of all because we don’t know what the future will look like. Would you agree that the more kids take responsibility for their own learning, the less danger they face of being equipped for yesterday’s battles?

    I don’t think it’s a case of either/or institutional/self-directed learning. Both matter. But I strongly believe that informal learning is growing in importance (I’ve been trying to hammer these ideas into shape at and am trying to think about extra things that we (the over-30s, not education professionals) can do to support informal learning without directing it. That’s besides the YRS work that you are doing, which is fab 😉

    Would be great to know what you think.

  8. “Imagine a world whereby our borders are open, where data is open, where organisations are open… where education is open.”

    Schools are not open. Children are forced to go there. This is so obvious that I am astonished I have to break it to you. Can you not see that a school of that kind can never be OPEN?

    It needs to be closed and the teachers thrown out. Let children go wherever they want to go, whenever they want to go.

    Anything less will not do. The Revolution is ON.

  9. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » Open Education and Freedom to Teach Computing

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