How does the Year of Code wreck become a good thing?

You all know my feelings on the Year of Code. That’s done. But it is a thing, it does exist and I know that they are now talking to great groups like CAS and people like Conrad Wolfram and I am sure they will find something useful to do.

If they are not going to turn it off and on again and reboot the whole thing then it would be great if the following things could happen:

Be able to answer the following questions: Who are you and what are you going to be doing exactly?

If signposting everything that is going on, then signpost. If representing a government initiative, do that (and defend it somehow). If just a massive PR exercise on behalf of coding – get cracking and get some massive advertising and brand agencies on board.

From my experience the subject is too broad for this scatter-gun effect of confused messaging to generally everyone.

Be clear who you need to be talking to. To my mind the group you need to be focusing on is parents. Reassure, explain, find a way to marry the mixed messaging of *the internet is bad and full of paedophiles and danger* and *go forth and code*.

That would help.

Oh and decide whether the Year of Code is a Government thing. If not, take Osborne off the Home page.

*Late edit* Can I please just clarify, I have no issue with Lottie Dexter not being able to code, that is not an issue. I can’t code. Well, not the way people code nowadays – BBC Basic was what I was brought up on, by a Father who was obsessed with computers and educational software in the 80s!! I did not choose to take this as a career path, but I do understand it! The issue is that she has not done enough research, has not been properly briefed, does not have the stories, passion or experience (yet) to be the right person for this. The Sarah Palin of Code. But it is not the coding thing, that is not the issue. Nor am I suggesting that I am right for it! I have a full time job, this is not that. It is the actual harm this confusion is causing, and it really has to end.

That’s it, I am done.

Here is a photo of my kittenIMG_7860 And some lovely Young Rewired State videos.

13 responses

  1. Pingback: How does the Year of Code wreck become a good thing? – Emma Mulqueeny | Public Sector Blogs

  2. Well said. They need a clear sense of purpose/identity and then a clear communications strategy. Even then, they’ll still make a mess of it by getting too closely involved with a tiny handful of ‘faces’ from the tech sector.

    I’m not convinced by any of it, as it stands. Although I’m also quite sceptical of the whole “coding *must* be taught to all school children” outlook, particularly where it concerns primary-age kids.

    Caveat … my eldest son is 15 and attends a college that specialises in STEM, in addition to the usual run of GCSE topics – so I’m not a tech-denier.

    I just think … A) there are bigger things the education system needs to fix before it embarks on what will become a watered down and mediocre attempt at something as major as rolling out coding to all UK schools – the Free School initiative still looks more like a mad man’s hair-do that a clear and sustainable strategy; B) there are issues of child poverty and illiteracy still affecting far too many children in the UK, and they ought to be taking priority; and C) our current crop of schools and teachers are not up to the job of adapting to such a wholesale new initiative – that’s not a criticism of teachers’ abilities, but an acceptance of the size of the challenge facing teachers (huge) and the size of the investment the government is making (tiny).

    We don’t even have a coordinated national strategy to help schools tackle things like cyber-bullying. There are so many signs that, as well-intentioned as it might be, the Year of Code will be a complete shambles.

    • I agree with you. And I did record an interview yesterday where I go into that a bit more. I also need to clarify that it is not a problem that Lottie does not code… I shall edit the piece. But yes, I completely agree with your points up there. I didn’t use to! I used to believe it was essential. But after having worked in this area for six years, I have changed my mind

  3. Pingback: 7 reasons why the Year of Code is just Am Dram… « Emma Mulqueeny

  4. Pingback: How does the Year of Code #YoC14 wreck become a...

  5. I think it is an unhelpful statement for any adult to declare that they can’t code. They really can, anyone old enough to do a jigsaw can use Scratch or a similar visual programming environment to make a sequence of actions happen. You can learn about loops and events and variables in very little time. She isn’t far wrong in saying it is a matter of hours, my year 5 codeclub programmers basically got it by the end of the first hour long project. Granted nobody is an expert after an hour, but anyone can make fun stuff happen in that timescale. You can use a spreadsheet for a year and never encounter a for-next loop and although cells store values they are not a good way of getting across the concept of a labelled variable that represents a value. As an employer this is what I want as foundational skills. I don’t care what language it is in, Scratch is fine, I just want all students to understand variables, loops and if statements.

  6. Great article, thanks!

    During a TEDx talk recently, where one of the speakers was talking about how everyone should code (strongly agree, but I do coding professionally, so…), I got talking with some teacher friends of mine…

    They’re keen to learn coding in their own right, but it has some greater urgency since they’re probably going to have to be involved with YoC at their school. My friend had the idea of doing something informal, supportive and playful, that fits in to the school hols (a great period of enforced idleness in a teacher’s schedule).

    It got me thinking of how I learnt, and wondering whether I could put something together – I’m kindof thinking something along the lines of a sewing/craft club but for coding. Maybe help address some of the Women In Tech stuff as well (my other pet cause).

    Would be interested in your thoughts: http://www.marcus-povey.co.uk/2014/02/20/learning-to-code/

  7. Dear Emma

    I am afraid that YoC is yet another government initiative with great headlines but no substance behind it. We only need to look at the number of failed government computer projects that have cost the tax payer an estimated £50 Billion over the last 20 years to understand the Government’s understanding of computing. We are now a mature computer society and will require a large number of programmers in the future. However these will be people who can not only write code but who understand the systems that are going to use that code. The traditional system of having a Systems Analyst write the specification and then have the code written in India, or wherever, is a busted flush as it has not delivered good result over the past few years. The model was OK when it was applied to single purpose systems such as payroll but does not work for the more complex systems that we are now trying to build. The key is of course “Domain Knowledge” as this enables the developer to understand how the required system actually works and know the right questions and the right people to ask those questions. Coding is important but getting the system right is even more important so perhaps we need a Year of Systems Building which includes coding but is based on project work in collaboration with industry. Lack of ability to code is not the problem, my company recently lost £175,000 which we paid to a company to build a small system for us. Unfortunately they failed to understand the system and produced something that just did not work. The people working on the project all had degrees in computer science but, as we found out to our cost, absolutely no knowledge of flight operations. It is interesting to note that British Airways has one of the largest IT departments in the UK but many the programs that they use in day to day flight operations have been written by off duty pilots.

    I have seen an early version of the syllabus for Coding in Schools, I am afraid it is going to be another government inspired train crash.

    William Lonergan

  8. Dear Emma,

    I read all the above with interest and can only shake my head at the appalling nonsense that is YoC. I teach in a primary school and have used Scratch with children on and off over the last few years. I agree with the premise that children should learn to code simply on the basis that it teaches higher level thinking skills – breaking down a problem into smaller more manageable tasks. It is a relatively simple system for a teacher to learn to deliver, and can slot into a busy curriculum so long as a sensible provision is made. Most importantly, for our school, it is free.

    However, what I am seeing at the moment is that companies are jumping onto the New Primary National Curriculum bandwagon, encouraged by YoC, and are using the pressure of the impending deadline of implementing the curriculum by Sept 2014 to “strong-arm” schools into buying the first “syllabus” out of the blocks. Primary schools are full of teachers with a variety of IT skills, some of whom are very savvy, many of whom are not. YoC only highlights to them that another top down initiative is on the way, and that it is time to get something in place quick before Ofsted come calling and ask awkward questions as to why Year 5 have not been “coding”.

    Over the last few years I have seen individual schools waste tens of thousands of pounds on IT – mostly through the provision of ill thought out hardware and infrastructure, encouraged by central government or local authorities. In many cases the equipment is underused, or even lying idle. The hardware suppliers have all done well though.

    Scratch is free to schools but almost no-one I speak to is using it. Those same people are all buying into paid for provision. Will they use it? Probably for a little while, but if you consider that in primary school over half the teaching day is taken up with number, calculation, writing and reading, how will you expect Computing to fare against the traditional subjects of Science, Art, History, Geography, RE, PE, Design, and now Modern Foreign Languages?

    Every top down initiative in primary education in the last fifteen years has not lasted, or has been unsustainable. Will YoC and the computing curriculum be yet another white elephant that simply serves to enrich private companies? Will children actually benefit from any of this in a meaningful, life enhancing way? I can only say I’m somewhat skeptical.

    On the other hand, if the money behind YoC was being spent on specialists delivering concentrated bursts of professional training that enabled teachers in local authority schools (most primary schools have chosen to remain under LA control rather than become academies) to deliver an initial sequence of lessons then perhaps some good would come out of it. Their website is rather vague on this but it is at least good to know they have a poet on board.

    I wish you all the very best and it is good to know that Young Rewired State is out there.

  9. What really pisses me off is that I know lots of skilled programmers who were pretty much waiting to be told where & when to show up and volunteer to teach local school teachers about basic coding, or more accurately be their to guide and give tips as they teach themselves.

    One facebook friend asked me if we should support a vast increase in the number of people who can code, as then people will know how the “magic” is done and we won’t be special anymore. My take on that is that in 20 years time I don’t want to still live in a world where the power of coding is only known by a select few, in demand but ultimately a service industry. I want to live in a world designed for people who can code, where we’ve got past the bullshit culture of the “app” and can get back to tools people can integrate themselves.

    Giving the majority of school kids an internalised grasp of boolean logic, blocks of code, conditionals, loops and functions doesn’t sound like much, but it’s magic 101. Abstract class interfaces & function pointers can wait until they decide to study it at university.

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