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 for code examples and )

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

YRS2012 and the Custard Factory

So, I have kept you all fairly well up to date with how we have managed to scale Young Rewired State and our Festival of Code weekend celebration at the end of the week, instead of a rushed single day with no time for proper chatting or collaboration, plotting and intrigue.

Our excitement at organising the festival to be held in the grounds of Bletchley Park with the National Museum of Computing hosting and doing all manner of wonderful things, was ridiculous. (You may remember).

Then one completely wonderful/terrible day a few weeks back, we realised that we had so many young programmers signing up, that there was no way we would be able to carry this off in the grounds of Bletchley Park. And no matter how wonderful they were, kind and accommodating – there was simply not enough room. A delicious but tragic position to be in.

Should we turn hundreds of kids away, or find a new venue, with only a few short months to go, in the middle of summer, the height of the Olympics and with bog all money? We had no real choice…

… we hit the phones, emails, mates, colleagues, strangers, ex-tutors, ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, current boyfs, current girlfs, twitter, airports, Number Ten, nuclear bunkers – you name it, we begged it. Fun!

I shan’t bore you with the details – it was a scary time.

Enter Birmingham City Council and Digital Birmingham – a wonderful, hugely under-resourced but fabulously helpful bunch of deliciousness. Within hours we were onto a winner and within days we were in Birmingham, looking at the most incredible venue ever: the Custard Factory (I promise it will not stay this amazing for long – go and have a look now before it is full of handlebar moustaches and penny farthings – every door opens into another beautifully naked space, groaning with street art and proper “urban chic” I think it is called.) I fell in love immediately, on behalf of the kids, of course.

Price was an issue. Naturally – most people putting on an event of this size with 500 kids, 50 centres, 200 mentors, celebrities, industry giants and whatnot, would have a budget to match. Not us – we have to work to fit the need, we cannot create the need and fill it, this is too young a game for us to be rigid, and if the demand is there we must rise to it, and if it isn’t we must make those people who are involved feel like the community is full to the brim even if there are only 50 of them. And so we cannot sell our souls for hundreds of thousands – which is what it would realistically cost, I think, in the normal world. And so we have what we have and we will make it happen.

Luckily we are working with the Big Cat Group who have been super helpful. Anthony Tattum and Lara Ratnaraja have not flinched at my ridiculous statements of necessity, and have instead either applauded all valiant efforts to reduce costs, or made necessary introductions and interventions. And we are finally here…

The plan is this:

From Monday through to Thursday the kids will all code in centres across the country, and where we cannot drum up a centre, they will be remotely mentored.

On the Friday the 10th August they will all make their way to the Custard Factory in Birmingham.

Through Friday afternoon and evening they will continue coding, have some chats from great people before bedding down for the world’s largest sleepover in spaces ranging from the Zellig rooms to the nightclub.

Breakfast is nice and early and heralds a chaotic (no doubt) morning of presentation heats to panels of judges followed by winning presentations to yet another panel of quite frankly astounding judges – names to be announced, we do not want to overshadow the celebration of the young talent by shiny grown ups!

Prizes and awards will be given and a party will be had, underneath the arches of course.

I expect people will start to disappear at this point, but we are going to have a survivor’s breakfast on the Sunday morning and have kept some of the spaces for those wishing to stay on (on the floor) and then it is all over and we start plans for 2013!

Some things I would like to mention:

1. We need to source 1000 chairs, the quote we received was for NINE THOUSAND POUNDS for 1000 chairs!! If necessary I will set up a chair donation thing for Birmingham and crowdsource them as we do not have that kind of cash! (Watch this space)

2. Feeding people will be fun. All suggestions very welcome – we cannot do a per capita rate we need options

3. We actually have a designated Green Room – <- I KNOW!

4. We could do with all hands on deck with Birmingham folk looking for non-Olympic stuff to do that weekend – feel free to let me know in comments here

*to note*

We have added ourselves to the Mozilla Summer Code Party as we know that we are merely a part of a worldwide movement of people doing awesome things. Let’s not forget the other stuff; indeed – if you can’t be a part of YRS2012, be a part of some of the other happenings.

PS Sorry there is no real custard in this blog post

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.