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Fixing Over a Decade of Missing Computer Programming Education In the UK

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the we-don't-need-no-education-well-maybe-we-do dept.

United Kingdom 117

For around a decade programming was not part of the computer curriculum in the U.K.. Through a lot of hard work from advocates and the industry this will soon change, but a large skills gap still exists. Tim Gurney is just one of many working on closing that gap. His Coding in Schools initiative aims to "work with schools and students and inspire the next generation of computer programmers and software engineers by creating and spearheading schools based programming clubs." I recently sat down with Tim to talk about who's working on the problem and what yet needs to be done. Read below to see what he's doing to change the state of things.samzenpus: Could you give us a little background about you and your project?

Tim: Yeah. My background, I spent the last 16 years working as a professional system administrator and software engineer. I've worked in many different arenas. I worked in research and development, and education. Most recently I worked in government, and military, most recently within an ISP here in the U.K.

In the last couple years I started my own business called Wolf Software. Out of that came along the coding in schools initiative. The big problem that's been identified, at least in the U.K., is there is a big skills gap for programmers. Something we noticed when trying to recruit software engineers is the younger end of the industry, the people coming out of University, or the people who have been out of University two or three years seem to have little or no real exposure to programming and programming techniques.

The U.K. government changed the curriculum around 12 years ago and removed programming from the computing curriculum. They're only recently bringing it back. It's actually coming back at the start of this academic year in September. We found that most the schools are unprepared. Most of the teaching staff is unprepared. The students are unprepared to take on this new set of requirements, one of which is programming.

So our idea is to work with schools to build programming clubs out of hours to give the students who want to learn more and more detail on programming and what you can do with it, an opportunity to do that. So that's the idea in a nutshell.

samzenpus: Why was programming taken out of the curriculum? Was it budget cuts?

Tim: I don't actually know the justification. They basically removed computer science and computer studies, and brought in information communication technology, or, as I call it, secretarial skills. They basically removed proper computer studies, and they were teaching them applications as opposed to computing and programming and operating systems. I'm not aware of the full reasoning or justification. It was something that was done under the Labor government.

A lot of people in the industry have been lobbying the government for many, many years to bring back proper computer science, proper computer studies. And that's now been done. That starts at the start of this academic year.

samzenpus: What ages does your program cover?

Tim: Our aim is to work primarily with 11 to 16 year olds. There's another group in the U.K. called Code Club and they work with primary school children up to the age of 11. So what we're looking to do is work alongside them. Where they've taught the children basic principles, and they played around with software like Scratch and a few of the other applications that let them get an idea of how to build games and basic software, we will then come in pre-GCSE, so around 11 to 13 to start with, and introduce them to actual programming.

So we'll be looking at things like PHP, Python, Ruby, proper actual languages where they'll be writing the code, and then working with the schools and the students through the GCSE years of 13 through 16.

samzenpus: How long does the program last? Is it a whole year? Or is it broken up into semesters?

Tim: We're breaking it up into the semester concept. What we'll do is, there'll be an initial three or four week mini course, which will give them an introduction to programming principles in general. So we'll be covering things like, what are integers, what are strings, what are variables, what are if statements, conditional logic, and things like that; just the basic grounding of it.

And then what we're aiming to do is create a number of optional courses. So they could then do a one semester course in PHP or Perl or Python. So we'll create all of these different, ten week long courses, the students can then opt in to do whatever ones they want to. So we could be in a situation where on half of the club is doing Perl and the other half is doing PHP.

So it's more a case of inspiring the kids to actually program, and then allowing them to pick what languages and what direction they want that programming to go into. We're talking to a group at the moment that may be able to help us develop a programming semester for mobile development for Apple and Android devices. We're also looking at developing a short course for building and looking after Raspberry pi and what software development we can do with one of those.

samzenpus: Who does the work with the kids? Do you try to teach the school staff these skills?

Tim: It's a bit of both. With the first two or three pilot schools that we have, we work with the staff, but we actually attend the club as well. Primarily myself, I attend a lot of the clubs. So that they can actually ask questions which the teachers, in the short term, may not have an answer for. In the longer term, as it grows, obviously that's not going to be sustainable. I can't attend every club across the country.

So the idea is to engage with other small businesses and other software companies around the U.K. and get them to get involved in their local area under the coding in schools banner. And try and get them to attend at least once a month to be there as an expert, as it were, in programming. So that they've always got someone they can go to.

We're also building a set of discussion forums, things like that, online. So if the kids have got questions they can post them into the forum. And hopefully kids in other schools will be able to answer. And we'll start getting them to build their own software community.

We have the open source community that we're involved in. If we can build that sort of community feel across the country, where the kids are actually engaging with each other and potentially working on projects across the schools, that would be the ultimate aim.

samzenpus: One of the things I read on your website is that you focus a lot on how to get girls interested in computer science. Do you specifically target female students?

Tim: We don't specifically target them. What we have is we have a couple of undergraduates who work with us who are female students. They, themselves, have come to us saying that they were never really given an opportunity. They were never pushed and shown what you can do with IT. It's a common problem in the U.K., where the student uptake is probably about 80% male.

So one of the things that we want to do, at least with the staff, is say to them that when people are talking about joining the club, make sure you ask the girls if it's something they want to do. Don't wait for them to come to you, because most of the time they won't. You need to almost engage them first.

So as a club we won't be going directly to the students. The staff will approach the students. But we're just saying to them, make sure that the girls are aware that this is something that they can do. It's not a boring thing. Once they have learned the basics they can build whatever they want to build. There are some very powerful women in IT that, hopefully, we can then use as role models.

samzenpus: Do the kids get school credit for this? Or is it mostly just so that they can learn these skills?

Tim: At the moment it is purely to gain new skills and to gain new understanding and hopefully something of interest to them. One of the longer term aims, it will take a number of years, is we would like to work with people like Computing at School and some of the others, to actually have this become an accredited course. So if they picked, say, three of the different modules, and they got graded on a certain level in those, that would then count towards their final examination. But at the moment it's not in a state to do that.

samzenpus: The world economic state being what it is, a lot of education programs are being cut. Not just in the U.K., but all over. Where do you see programs like yours fitting into the future of education?

Tim: I think they are there to facilitate education. If we can get businesses and other people around the country realizing that the new students that are there are going to be their employees in 10 years' time, then they'll see that as a reason to give back. One of the things that started our thinking was if we don't start teaching the younger people now in 10 years' time there won't be any programmers to do the work.

So hopefully they'll see that as a way of giving back, not only to the industry as a whole, but also to their local communities to help out the schools. There are a lot of parents that we've spoken to, some of which work in IT, that have come along and said, "Well, you know, this is good for my kids. It's good for their school. How can we help?" So we see it working, hopefully, alongside the set educational system. But to give enhancement and opportunities to those that want to take it outside of school.

samzenpus: Have you talked to anyone in the government, about getting these programs in schools? Or do you think you're better served working with the schools directly?

Tim: I think in the short term, we're better served just talking directly to the schools. Once we can build up sufficient momentum, then we actually have something that we can take back to the local educational authorities, or to the government itself, and say, "Look. We've got 20% of all the schools in the U.K. onboard with this. This is something that you should be doing, but we're doing it. Why don't you help us?"

At the moment we don't quite have enough traction to do that. But we are talking and working with some bigger organization like, say, Computing at School, who have four thousand, five hundred members at schools across the country. So we're working with them. It's something they see as a gap. That's why we're working with them, because we fill a niche that they want to fill.

The aim, eventually, is for all of the groups like us, Coding in Schools, Code Academy, Code Club, and all these other different groups to eventually come together and hopefully form a national initiative which will cover all of the age groups, in and out of school, which will give us a very strong position, then, to take to the government and say, "This is something that needs to be done from a governmental level."

samzenpus: Is there anything else you're working on now?

Tim: We've got two or three pilot schools that we're starting now. We've got the first summer schools being planned. We're actually going to do a summer school this year. Because the course is starting in September, the new students are taking it as an option, and the teachers really don't quite know what they are doing yet.

So we put together a week long summer school to work with the two or three pilot schools and the staff to work with the students. Just so they can get an idea of what it is that is coming. So that's quite an important one.

With funding being cut for educational stuff all over the place, one of the things we're trying to do at the moment is to raise funding via either donations or sponsorship. I've talked to Google, and Microsoft, and some of the major players in the market that are software oriented, to see if we can get some donations or sponsorship from them, because it's them that are going to benefit, obviously in the long term. I think that's everything.

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Britain! And so can you! (3, Funny)

TWiTfan (2887093) | about a year ago | (#44061149)

Tim Gurney is just one of many working on closing that gap

If they can do it with teeth, they can do it with programming too!

I just hope they do a delightful musical number, perhaps involving chimney sweeps and street urchins, to promote the initiative.

Re:Britain! And so can you! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44064227)

This is funny? This gets +5 funny? Could someone please explain the humour, I don't understand any of it.

Re:Britain! And so can you! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44065173)

Tim Gurney is just one of many working on closing that gap

If they can do it with teeth, they can do it with programming too!

I just hope they do a delightful musical number, perhaps involving chimney sweeps and street urchins, to promote the initiative.

You just can't be British around some people.

Imagine if every time you made a comment, somebody replied with "Hey maybe that will help you eat your BURGERS and shoot your GUNS!". And then a bunch of people gave that person a congratulatory slap on the back. Because that's what just happened here.

It's not a problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44061157)

Teaching random kids how to program will not result in good programmers. Focus on outreach, self-study is the only way to go.

Re:It's not a problem (5, Insightful)

MrNemesis (587188) | about a year ago | (#44061379)

It probably won't, no... but what it will do is massively increase exposure to programming. Not everyone's cut out to be a Ritchie or a Picasso or a da Vinci but we still think it's important to get kids exposed to art and science at an early age to give peoples talents the best chance of development, yet here at least there was an active shift away from programming.

When I was at school in the UK in the 80's, we were actively encouraged to tinker with things in our spare time with our dreaded IT teacher (she was actually very nice but had a rep as being very strict). One member of my class wrote his own top-down racing game in assembly on the BBC micros; looked very simple but had self-generating tracks and (mind-blowingly for us at the time) 16 computer multiplayer (I think?) off the back of the econet. I never really had much of a head for programming but still.

When my sister went to the same school a few years later, it was nothing but microsoft this and microsoft that; "today we're going to look at how to change fonts, sizes and text styles in Word, children!", "Here's how to make a pie-chart look 3D!". As a family of geeky tinkerers she found it infuriating that the entire curriculum centred on the concept of the computer being an important and yet inscrutable tool that mere mortals would have no hope of understanding - as kids we'd had craptons of fun making lego robots and this taught us both that learning how to break complex problems into small ones was the important part, and once you'd done that you could do almost anything. My first GF had the same experience when she was at school - "you only need a computer in order to learn how to use this software packages". If kids haven't been exposed to the guts of computers at home, and they got nothing but this dross from school, then any latent talent they may have is going to go unrecognised.

So if this initiative can help get the UK curriculum steered off the educational cul-de-sac it's been in, then great, but I think we're still a long way away from the large culture shift needed. Proper education is just too expensive and most of the geeks I'm seeing come to the fore these days only became like that because one of their parents is a geek and made sure they had Tinker Time or Take Things To Bits And Then Put Them Back Together Again Day as a child.

Just an observation from someone who doesn't have kids, hopefully some fellow UK-er can make me feel better with a "it's not all that bad really!"...

Re:It's not a problem (1)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about a year ago | (#44063699)

Teaching random kids how to program will not result in good programmers. Focus on outreach, self-study is the only way to go.

Self-study is not the way to go. Self-study works for the lucky few who stumble on the right strategy, materials etc, but it's a lottery. Directed study works for the majority... if the teacher is good enough.

Code Club books? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44061171)

Has anyone looked at the Code Club books for Python? I'd love to get a decent book for my elementary aged son that teaches programming basics. Not that there's anything wrong with BASICs... ;-)

Re:Code Club books? (1)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about a year ago | (#44063731)

Not that there's anything wrong with BASICs... ;-)

Unfortunately, the carbonara sauce doesn't stick to that type of spaghetti as well as it does to the egg-and-flour based stuff.

Translation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44061187)

Programmers are getting higher salaries than we'd like, let's flood the market with cheap labour and drive their income way way down.

Try and say the same about accountants or legal bods, though. Nope, never, can't have people coming into that market with the same skills, it would reduce what we can charge the masses!

Re:Translation (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44061265)

Try and say the same about accountants or legal bods, though. Nope, never, can't have people coming into that market with the same skills

They won't have the same skills, though. Most public schools in most countries are trash, and most people have no aptitude for programming (or anything that requires you to use a great deal of logic, basically) anyway.

Re:Translation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44061409)

Programming isn't about logic. It is about fucking around with office politics and pleasing some fucker with too much say in a project that wants to have their way over some other department.
Then showing them what they've asked for, said yes too and then changed their mind about. What they thought they wanted isn't that at all. I can't see any logic in rather a lot of it. Pays the bills.

Re:Translation (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about a year ago | (#44065177)

Most public schools in most countries are trash

This is the UK where public schools are the elite private schools.

They're called public schools because they're publically available (to anyone with sufficient money of course), unlike the church schools which were the only other alternative. Times have changed but the name stuck.

Re:Translation (1)

Rufty (37223) | about a year ago | (#44066095)

Public schools vs private tutors.

Re:Translation (3, Informative)

slim (1652) | about a year ago | (#44061763)

Programmers are getting higher salaries than we'd like, let's flood the market with cheap labour and drive their income way way down.

I don't think that's the case; if it was, then powerful companies would be lobbying the government, and coding would be in the government-mandated national curriculum. As opposed to this effort, which is a grassroots one coming from people who realise that even if coding isn't your job, it's empowering to know how.

Just like English teachers teach you to read because they love literature, and they want as many people people as possible to grow up loving it too.

There are loads of intelligent people who could code if only they'd started young, when their minds were malleable and they had free time. They probably wouldn't want jobs as developers. But they'd benefit from being able to knock together a dynamic web page, or a scripted animation, or short programs to fill in spreadsheet cells instead of the baroque arrangements of cell formulas so many people cobble together.

Programming (4, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year ago | (#44061193)

I think public education itself here is a major problem. Most children are being force fed knowledge and asked to regurgitate it on command. Forced learning like this doesn't stick very well; That's well-established in psychology. Self-directed learning requires more teacher-pupil involvement and support from the parents, but it results in a much more rounded education.

I'm pretty much self-taught from 5th grade forward on all the primary school subjects; I just needed help with reading and after that I was on my own. I did very poorly in public education, but by the time I was 18, I took my GED and went into college. I can't tell you who the first ten presidents of the United States are, or regurgitate the talking points of War and Peace, but I can tell you why WWII happened, why Hitler had broad public support, show you pictures of him kissing babies, and not just say what happened, but why it happened. I can do basic trigeometry in my head and estimate distances pretty accurately just by looking at objects in real life. I don't just understand science, I practice it in everyday life. I don't just know that "sex is bad" like health class taught you: I volunteer at Planned Parenthood.

Education that a person is involved in doesn't just lead to a better understanding of the world, but also an innate sense of responsibility for that world. And what does any of this have to do with programming?

If I'd stuck to the curriculum shoved down my throat in school, I wouldn't have gotten into computers. I discovered it on my own. Then I taught myself programming. And now, professionally, I very often find myself teaching others how to do the same. And programming, more than many other topics, requires self-directed learning. It doesn't work very well under the existing "force fed" public education system... What you get is bored students who hate computers, and can't design anything much more complicated than counting loops that say "this class sucks 1. this class sucks 2. this class sucks 3. if this class sucks, then this class really sucks."

In the hacker community, the self-taught hacker is often better respected than his academically-shaped peer, and the reason has nothing to do with a disrespect of education, but rather an implicit understanding that you just don't learn as well unless you're interested in the material and follow your own path through it.

Re:Programming (1)

Microlith (54737) | about a year ago | (#44061307)

It's nice that you're happy to pat yourself on the back here, but I'm failing to see your point. Are you suggesting that they shouldn't do this?

In the hacker community, the self-taught hacker is often better respected than his academically-shaped peer, and the reason has nothing to do with a disrespect of education, but rather an implicit understanding that you just don't learn as well unless you're interested in the material and follow your own path through it.

People who are interested in the material will do well regardless. Saying that those who are self-taught and not "academically-shaped" get more respect is, at best, wishful thinking or egotism.

Re:Programming (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44061339)

I'm glad you spotted the problem with her post, too. Filthy sows shouldn't be programming; they should be pleasuring us men!

Re:Programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44063927)

This is how the new fascists work, can't criticize a woman or non-white. Probable a vile liberal.

Re:Programming (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year ago | (#44061465)

People who are interested in the material will do well regardless. Saying that those who are self-taught and not "academically-shaped" get more respect is, at best, wishful thinking or egotism.

You can take that up with Eric S. Raymond, the social anthropologist who studied hacker culture, and wrote this [outpost9.com] in Appendix D of the Hacker Dictionary, titled Portrait of J. Random Hacker. By all means, go ahead and tell him it was wishful thinking and egotism. Let me know how that goes.

Re:Programming (1)

Microlith (54737) | about a year ago | (#44061565)

By all means, go ahead and tell him it was wishful thinking and egotism. Let me know how that goes.

I would readily tell him so. However you're appealing to authority here. And you completely ignored my question.

Re:Programming (-1)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year ago | (#44062843)

I would readily tell him so. However you're appealing to authority here. And you completely ignored my question.

Possibly because you were an asshole about it. And "appeal to authority" doesn't mean what you think it does, again probably because you're an asshole; Eric S. Raymond [wikipedia.org] studied hacker culture in detail for several years. He has published several books on the culture and is widely regarded by many as an unofficial spokesperson for the open source movement. He is, by any reasonable measure, an expert on the topic. An appeal to authority argument is only a logical fallacy in cases where the person isn't an expert, where there is no consensus, or where the appeal is based on deductive instead of inductive reasoning.

Now sit down, shut up, and drink your ovaltine.

Re:Programming (3, Insightful)

Microlith (54737) | about a year ago | (#44063229)

Possibly because you were an asshole about it.

I was being slightly glib about it, given how long you went on about yourself. But feel free to blow it completely out of proportion.

again probably because you're an asshole

You've descended into base insults. Good to see there's no hope for an actual discussion.

there is no consensus

This is the key point here. You cite ESR and, unfortunately, he's the only person you can cite. Nothing resembling a consensus exists with respect to the idea that someone who is self-taught gets more respect than someone with a degree. Never mind ignoring the notion that someone who was self-taught could also earn a degree.

Yet somehow it seems to be the basis for the unspoken point of "we shouldn't teach programming in schools." Which I can only surmise is your point.

Re:Programming (1)

Randle_Revar (229304) | about a year ago | (#44063293)

>drink your ovaltine.

I love Ovaltine!

Re:Programming (1)

narcc (412956) | about a year ago | (#44064573)

An appeal to authority argument is only a logical fallacy in cases where the person isn't an expert, where there is no consensus, or where the appeal is based on deductive instead of inductive reasoning.

Wow, that's ... really, really, wrong.

Perhaps if you had taken a course in logic, instead of reading a few "rationalist" blog sites, you'd understand why.

Re:Programming (1)

ahabswhale (1189519) | about a year ago | (#44065309)

Please enlighten us.

Re:Programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44065333)

Saying that X is true simply because Y said so is always a fallacy. Saying that X is likely true because Y, who is an expert on the subject, found and presented evidence that X is indeed true is not a fallacy.

Re:Programming (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44062299)

People who are interested in the material will do well regardless. Saying that those who are self-taught and not "academically-shaped" get more respect is, at best, wishful thinking or egotism.

You can take that up with Eric S. Raymond, the social anthropologist who studied hacker culture, and wrote this [outpost9.com] in Appendix D of the Hacker Dictionary, titled Portrait of J. Random Hacker. By all means, go ahead and tell him it was wishful thinking and egotism. Let me know how that goes.

The Hacker Dictionary does not even offer a pretense of objectivity - to suggest that a non-systematic summary of a straw poll on Usenet groups he frequented is sufficient for a 'social anthropologist' to draw sweeping conclusions about Hackers certainly seems like egotism. Generalising his own personal characteristics and views as being the views of all hackers is pretty much par for the course for ESR.

Re:Programming (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year ago | (#44062899)

The Hacker Dictionary does not even offer a pretense of objectivity - to suggest that a non-systematic summary of a straw poll on Usenet groups he frequented is sufficient for a 'social anthropologist' to draw sweeping conclusions about Hackers certainly seems like egotism. Generalising his own personal characteristics and views as being the views of all hackers is pretty much par for the course for ESR.

I was going off of the strength of what he's published; Freeing the Source: The Story of Mozilla, Code: Linux and the Open Source Revolution, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, The Art of Unix Programming, etc., all of which have been widely cited by open source proponents. But let's ignore all that, I mean, anyone can publish a book that gets picked up by one of the most respected names in the field: O'Reilly, am I right? Usenet at the time was a good representative sample of the community, in the same way Slashdot up until a few years ago was a representative sample. It is not perfect, of course, but it certainly has more weight to it than an Anonymous Coward posting a handwave.

Re:Programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44064705)

The Hacker Dictionary does not even offer a pretense of objectivity - to suggest that a non-systematic summary of a straw poll on Usenet groups he frequented is sufficient for a 'social anthropologist' to draw sweeping conclusions about Hackers certainly seems like egotism. Generalising his own personal characteristics and views as being the views of all hackers is pretty much par for the course for ESR.

I was going off of the strength of what he's published; Freeing the Source: The Story of Mozilla, Code: Linux and the Open Source Revolution, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, The Art of Unix Programming, etc., all of which have been widely cited by open source proponents. But let's ignore all that, I mean, anyone can publish a book that gets picked up by one of the most respected names in the field: O'Reilly, am I right? Usenet at the time was a good representative sample of the community, in the same way Slashdot up until a few years ago was a representative sample. It is not perfect, of course, but it certainly has more weight to it than an Anonymous Coward posting a handwave.

Deepak Chopra has published several books on quantum mechanics, but that doesn't mean I have to accept his views on physics. ESR's other 'anthropological' views include the view that black people [ibiblio.org] are substantially less intelligent than other races and are inherently prone to violence, and some pretty genocidal opinions. And what about his interesting views on homosexuals [blogspot.com] :

Pederasty, at least, remains a common behavior among modern homosexuals... To the extent that pederasty, pedophilic impulses, and twink fantasies are normal among homosexual men, putting one in charge of adolescent boys may after all be just as bad an idea as waltzing a man with a known predisposition for alcoholism into a room full of booze.

Am I supposed to take him seriously about these things as well?

Re:Programming (2)

chuckinator (2409512) | about a year ago | (#44061343)

For the tldr; crowd: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.

Re:Programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44061573)

A lot of people complain about school, and many do so from a "I was bad in school and now I'm doing alright" perspective. In my experience you can learn quite a lot in school, but teachers are not your personal motivators. Some people only start to understand that they themselves are responsible for what they learn when they go to college and recognize that nobody pretends to handhold you through the experience anymore. If you want something, you have to grab it, and that's no different in school either. Teachers, no matter what you think of them, don't become teachers for the big money or the relaxed work environment. Generally speaking, they want to teach, and if you're a student who wants to learn, they'll teach you, above and beyond the curriculum if you're up for it. The choice between "learning facts by heart" and "understanding how and why" isn't decided by the curriculum. Some students see a test and think the only way to pass it is to know the answers and just write them down when you recognize the questions, but of course that's not true. School is not perfect. Like any other place, there are some really misplaced people working as teachers, but if a student wants to learn, the option of understanding how and why exists in school just like it exists anywhere else.

Programming does not require self-directed learning any more than other topics do. It is a big field with many non-trivial insights that are not easily understood without someone to talk to when you have a question, and the learning curve has quite a steep start. What matters is that you want to know. If you reject most of the curriculum because you just don't want to learn it *now*, that isn't the fault of the curriculum.

Re:Programming (1)

SJHiIlman (2957043) | about a year ago | (#44061815)

In my experience you can learn quite a lot in school

You can learn quite a bit more by self-studying if you have a bit of motivation. You don't want to be bogged down by assignments and tests that require only rote memorization to pass, so wasting such substantial amounts of time at a public school (if the ones in your country are terrible like they are in the US) isn't advisable for people who are sufficiently motivated. Following someone else's curriculum can be a distraction as well.

School is not perfect.

Oh, it's far from perfect. If you can pass tests and assignments by reciting facts (and you can a grand majority of the time), something is terribly wrong.

the option of understanding how and why exists in school just like it exists anywhere else.

You should become a comedian.

Re:Programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44062185)

First of all, not all rote memorization is bad. Some stuff you just got to know to be able to piece things together when you're learning how and why. This never changes. There isn't enough time to learn everything from the inside out, but it's still necessary that you've heard about stuff, so that you know where to look up the details when you need them.

Second, even if a test requires only rote memorization, that's not the only way to learn for it. Yes, up to a certain level, you can pass the tests that way, but eventually it becomes easier to understand than to learn by heart, because when you understand, you increase what you know. When you memorize, you forget as much as you learn. As the tests become more complicated, students who only memorize fall behind, and they'll start to wonder how other students who don't even cram before the exam can do better. By that time it's too late. You can't understand years of how and why with only weeks left to the test.

Third, "someone else's curriculum" may look packed with stuff that you don't need. Of course there is some stuff in there for purely political reasons, but you will need most of what is taught in school at some point. Some of it you'll take for granted, some you'll sorely miss if you skipped it. But that's the thing: If you want to know, it won't matter to you whether you *need* to know. Someone who always thinks "why should I learn this, I don't need this" does miss out and will eventually regret it, but again, that's not the fault of the curriculum.

Fourth, this is all lost on the people who need it most. They develop a self defense mechanism: They think the reason it's always the good students who tout the importance of school is because they were good at it, and people who say it only want to put down those who have problems in school. Worst of all is when parents justify or excuse their children's lack of success this way. A child in a situation like that is looking for an excuse and if the parents provide it, the child eats it up hook, line and sinker.

Re:Programming (1)

SJHiIlman (2957043) | about a year ago | (#44062313)

First of all, not all rote memorization is bad.

I never said that all memorization is bad.

that's not the only way to learn for it.

But in practice, that's what happens.

but eventually it becomes easier to understand than to learn by heart, because when you understand, you increase what you know.

But in practice, that is not true.

When you memorize, you forget as much as you learn.

Which is what happens. When next they need it, they can at least recall it a bit easier. Complexity is irrelevant.

You can't understand years of how and why with only weeks left to the test.

Understand the "why" is not necessary for rote memorization kings, of which there appear to be many.

Third, "someone else's curriculum" may look packed with stuff that you don't need.

And it very well may be, and often is. It's not just about what you need and what you don't, but about what works for you. The pitfalls of one-size-fits-all education should be well understood.

Someone who always thinks "why should I learn this, I don't need this" does miss out and will eventually regret it

That depends on the individual. Nice try.

Please stop trying to defend the pitiful school system.

Re:Programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44062705)

It's not just about what you need and what you don't, but about what works for you. The pitfalls of one-size-fits-all education should be well understood.

The complaints about cruft in the curriculum are often justified with the notion that students will eventually specialize, so they don't need all that other stuff and should instead use the time to learn more of whatever suits their talents. That is exactly the reasoning that gets computer science kicked out of the curriculum. The truth is, with very few exceptions the high school curriculum only touches the essential basics, regarding both breadth and depth. It is not a "one size fits all" education. It is an almost minimal foundation. But again, the people who would benefit most from understanding this can't see the use.

Re:Programming (2)

SJHiIlman (2957043) | about a year ago | (#44062749)

It is not a "one size fits all" education.

Except that it is. What else is it when you force students to sit in a room and follow a certain curriculum? It is not just about 'unnecessary' things on the curriculum, either; even if everything was 100% necessary, we still could only offer a one-size-fits-all education.

The truth is, with very few exceptions the high school curriculum only touches the essential basics

Well, that really would depend on how you define "essential."

Re:Programming (1)

xaxa (988988) | about a year ago | (#44061947)

I think public education itself here is a major problem. Most children are being force fed knowledge and asked to regurgitate it on command.

Except this is the UK, where it isn't that bad. (The current government is trying to make it worse, to go back to the "good old days" of learning lists of kings and queens, but anyway... they haven't yet done so.)

The final programming exam (for a 16 year old) should look something like this (PDF) [aqa.org.uk] . The earlier questions are simple facts, but only getting those correct won't get a decent grade. Later questions require understanding.

I can tell you why WWII happened, why Hitler had broad public support, show you pictures of him kissing babies, and not just say what happened, but why it happened.

GCSE History, Unit 1 (PDF) [aqa.org.uk] . Topic 3:
"Which was more important as a cause of the Second World War:
- the remilitarisation of the Rhineland, 1936,
- the Nazi-Soviet Pact, 1939
You must refer to both causes when explaining your answer. (10 marks)"

Half the marks for the paper are for these longer questions, the other half are easier to get.

(Feel free to disagree -- we now have two primary sources on which to base the discussion!)

In the hacker community, the self-taught hacker is often better respected than his academically-shaped peer, and the reason has nothing to do with a disrespect of education, but rather an implicit understanding that you just don't learn as well unless you're interested in the material and follow your own path through it.

A hacker who goes to university, and chooses courses they're interested in (which I assume is also normal in the US?), will be better than the one who didn't.

Re:Programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44062247)

Good tests for rote memorization geniuses.

will be better than the one who didn't.

That's not necessarily the case. It depends entirely on the individual.

Re:Programming (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year ago | (#44062063)

School works out okay for some people—I made it through with consistent Bs and As (and only got Cs when I really couldn't be convinced to care, which was scarcely.) My high school actually did have a programming curriculum, three courses from grade 10 to 12, which was focused on business applications (nothing but VB, Access, and Turing; bleck.) I'd been programming since I was twelve or thirteen, though, so despite my teacher's best efforts, I knew at least as much as he did on pretty much every topic, and ultimately the courses ended up being an excuse for me to waste a quarter of my day for three semesters writing Tetris clones and cheating at online typing speed tests. (Sadly, they cleared the scoreboards when rude comments with ~400 wpm started showing up.)

In my opinion, this happened because there was no standard curriculum. The teacher was told to offer computer science, so (being the business teacher) he did what he knew. I later heard that other schools in the district taught a more serious load: Java (at the time) and the content from a first-year intro to CS course, but I was only aware of one or two students who actually excelled in programming there; when the University of Waterloo started hosting province-wide programming competitions, it turned out that my self-taught knowledge got our school a lot further than their well-intentioned teaching. (Our team made it to the finals, in fact, even though most of the questions were classic CS problems that we didn't have the theoretical background for.)

So, two points: one, you can stick to the curriculum and still learn on the side. The school workload is honestly pretty light, and I think you would've been bored out of your skull just like I was if you'd gone through it. Two, I still somewhat agree with you about the self-directed learning thing, but that doesn't mean the classroom has to be cut out; I'm pretty sure I can attribute the success of a lot of my university classmates to professors telling them that they should program for fun in their spare time. If we can make sure that this piece of crucial knowledge gets passed on to teachers, then programming in grade school has a chance of actually being a positive force, like it should be.

...The proof is that we got totally clobbered at the finals by students who actually were from the vicinity of CS-heavy universities. Clearly their non-standardized curricula did something right that our backwater ones couldn't quite grasp.

Re:Programming (1)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about a year ago | (#44063895)

If I'd stuck to the curriculum shoved down my throat in school, I wouldn't have gotten into computers. [...] And programming, more than many other topics, requires self-directed learning.

This is a non-sequitur, a huge leap of logic. The curriculum you were given at school was bad. That demonstrates nothing more than that bad teaching doesn't work. This is not surprising.

The problem in computer teaching is a problem of poorly designed curriculums, and teachers who often don't understand the technology they're working with. Worse, the curriculum is rarely provided to the teachers with full explanation of the curriculum design, so the teachers aren't aware of what they're doing or why. This leads the teacher to be simply a computer delivering a sequence of instructions, rather than a true teacher, building meaningful explanations and scaffolding students through their difficulties.

The problem is that any wide initiative to improve computing teaching is likely to be a design-by-committee, standardised curriculum that recreates the same problem for teachers, and doesn't improve the situation....

Re:Programming (1)

narcc (412956) | about a year ago | (#44064497)

In the hacker community, the self-taught hacker is often better respected than his academically-shaped peer

That's just something autodidacts tell themselves to make themselves feel important.

and the reason has nothing to do with a disrespect of education

Sure about that? See any of the recent "is college useless" slashdot discussions.

but rather an implicit understanding that you just don't learn as well unless you're interested in the material and follow your own path through it.

That's the biggest problem with autodidacts. They tend to ignore important material that they don't have an interest in, don't immediately understand, or disagree with (because it doesn't appeal to their intuition or runs contrary to their existing beliefs.)

They end up believing themselves experts in a topic, when in reality they're less informed than a hipster Starbucks barista that took an undergrad course in the same subject.

Now, computer programming is a special case. Any kid can teach themselves computer programming -- hell, in the 80's, a lot of kids did! -- and even make a career out of it with very little effort. Just like a backyard mechanic can find work in a repair shop. The difference, of course, is that the mechanics don't fancy themselves engineers.

Programming is the easiest thing I've ever done. That a fact that many (most?) developers know but don't want to state publicly. They've got too much of their self-worth wrapped up in it. They want to continue to pretend that they're special in some way (more rational, intelligent, whatever) because they can write computer programs.

That insecurity is a problem only the autodidacts face. The educated take pride in what they've actually accomplished, not in the knowledge they have or the skills they've acquired. They know that anyone can learn (or learn to do) what they have learned, so they don't believe their knowledge and skills alone make them special or important.

Quote Eric S. Raymond all you want, but you won't find too much respect for autodidact "physicists" in the physics community or any in his silly little list of "academic areas". (I find it laughable that you refer to him as a "social anthropologist". He's not. Not even close. He's just another under-educated autodidact pandering to other under-educated autodidacts. It's sad, really.)

Re:Programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44065073)

Calling programming easy is like calling writing easy because every child can do it. That's neither the kind of programming nor the kind of writing which people mean when they think of it as a skill.

Re:Programming (1)

SJHiIlman (2957043) | about a year ago | (#44065397)

That's the biggest problem with autodidacts. They tend to ignore important material that they don't have an interest in, don't immediately understand, or disagree with (because it doesn't appeal to their intuition or runs contrary to their existing beliefs.)

Really? Do tell me more.

They end up believing themselves experts in a topic, when in reality they're less informed than a hipster Starbucks barista that took an undergrad course in the same subject.

Wow! I had no idea.

You know, it's interesting how you say things such as "That's just something autodidacts tell themselves to make themselves feel important." and then go on to say ridiculous things yourself, almost making it seem as if you want to make yourself feel more important (because according to your logic, saying such things means you're just trying to make yourself feel important).

Re:Programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44064583)

Cool story bro.

RaspberryPi (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44061217)

Bring out the RaspberryPis! It is rather easy to neglect that this is there actual intended use...

Re:RaspberryPi (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#44061557)

Bring out the RaspberryPis! It is rather easy to neglect that this is there actual intended use...

Scratch was mentioned.. it's a submarine pi mention.

but still, if you have a classroom full of computers wtf do you need the raspberry for? to teach kids that computers might explode with wrong codes and therefore you need to use a crappy computer when the classroom is full of decent desktops?

Re:RaspberryPi (1)

thomasw_lrd (1203850) | about a year ago | (#44061931)

The raspberry pi is great because you can rake leaves for an afternoon, and buy one for home use, instead of needing to work for whole month at an afterschool job like I had to to buy a shiny new compaq many years ago. Yes desktops are considerably cheaper now, but still more expensive than $35.

Some households have chosen locked-down devices (1)

tepples (727027) | about a year ago | (#44062541)

if you have a classroom full of computers wtf do you need the raspberry for?

Some households have chosen to own only locked-down devices, such as iOS devices and video game consoles, whose business model runs counter to exposure to programming. A Raspberry Pi computer that goes home with the student would at least allow the student to complete homework assignments.

Re:Some households have chosen locked-down devices (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44063493)

Not only that, but a RaspberryPi is much more portable than a desktop (or even a laptop). May be used at school and at home, and slipped easily into even a child's bag for transport between the two.

Re:RaspberryPi (1)

robthebloke (1308483) | about a year ago | (#44065107)

Full of decent desktops, that are locked down to such an extent, as to be completely useless for kids who want to learn about programming. Forget about compiling and running your own exe, the perceived threat is too great to allow that to happen. The pi is useful because you can f**k about with the OS until you break it (and a reinstall is childs play), f**k up your code enough to crash the graphics driver, or you know, find out what "rm -rf /" does....

gap vs. salaries? (2)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about a year ago | (#44061249)

Anyone want to comment on the connection between this gap, and the low salaries for software developers in London? (I'm basing this on the advertised salary ranges in jobs for London vs. jobs for other cities.)

Re:gap vs. salaries? (1)

JustNiz (692889) | about a year ago | (#44061359)

I'm Interested to know where you're getting your stats from, as I'm getting spam from agents about contracts in London that pay quite well compared to the rates I'm seeing in the US.

of course the real amount will be different because you have to factor in the difference in local taxes, cost of living etc.

Re:gap vs. salaries? (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | about a year ago | (#44061617)

I find the list of skills they ask to be overly wishful. If you had all they assumed you'd want double the money.

Re:gap vs. salaries? (2)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about a year ago | (#44062057)

I can't remember exactly where I got my raw data, but it was probably a combination of job postings on LinkedIn and Monster.

IIRC, the general trend I saw was C++ programmers going for about 50k-70k USD in London, vs. maybe $70k-110k typical in Boston and in Washington, D.C.

I didn't think the difference would be explained by cost-of-living differences, because I've heard London is a pretty expensive place to live.

Re:gap vs. salaries? (1)

91degrees (207121) | about a year ago | (#44065911)

British salaries haven't really kept up with a declining value of the pound. So the salary of a software developer is pretty good compared with other fields that have a similar level of education (other than finance perhaps).

I think there's a cultural view that GB£1 is about equal to US$2 even though this hasn't been the case since the 1980's. Salaries in the rest of Northern Europe are considerably better. I can easily make 20-30% more in Belgium or Amsterdam than I make in London, and as you quite rightly say, living in London is not exactly cheap.

Re:gap vs. salaries? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44061423)

People want software development to be cheaper than it is. Since getting it right is both very important and very hard, it should be and will be expensive. That, however, will not stop business owners from trying to find the coveted cheap-but-awesome developer and getting the poor bastard to make a fortune for his superiors.

Putting programming in public schools is just an attempt at creating more competent programmers in an effort to further pull salaries down. It might even work, but not nearly as well as is hoped.

Re:gap vs. salaries? (1)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about a year ago | (#44064123)

Putting programming in public schools is just an attempt at creating more competent programmers in an effort to further pull salaries down. It might even work, but not nearly as well as is hoped.

The way computer teaching will drive up productivity is by supplying us with an educated workforce that can do basic scripting to automate their regular or ad hoc tasks. Honestly, I used to work for a major IT consultancy, and I was appalled by how many of many colleagues were doing repetitive stuff by hand, rather than programming keyboard macros, writing shell scripts etc. In an IT consultancy! And don't get me started on all the spreadsheets.

We need to start teaching people to see computing — proper computing — as a tool, not a speciality. Then we'll be more productive, and (perhaps more importantly) less bored at work.

Re:gap vs. salaries? (1)

mjwalshe (1680392) | about a year ago | (#44061859)

Its the same for all technical professions in the UK we are universally looked down upon as oily engineers who will get the carpet dirty

Re:gap vs. salaries? (1)

xaxa (988988) | about a year ago | (#44061981)

Anyone want to comment on the connection between this gap, and the low salaries for software developers in London? (I'm basing this on the advertised salary ranges in jobs for London vs. jobs for other cities.)

Compared to other British cities, or compared to cities where you live?

I live in London, and I understand the salaries here to be higher than in most of Britain for most jobs, including software development.

Salaries in the US might be higher, but I don't think software development is different to any other highly skilled job in this respect.

I can tell you why it was removed (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44061329)

There are 2 reasons programming was removed:

1) It is difficult which means it isn't easy to mark or get good grades. It was simplified out of the curriculum to boost grades and thus give the appearance of the UK having good IT education.
2) Our government was (and still is) computer illiterate and technophobic (except for spying on us) and saw no value in it.

GCSE and A levels (1)

Brit_in_the_USA (936704) | about a year ago | (#44061341)

I don't recall programming at my UK schools as part of core/compulsory curriculum in the 1980's and 1990's. However those who elect to study GCSE and/or A level computer science in middle/high school were required to learn programming as part of the 2 year course and programming project(s) had to be turned in that accounted considerably to the final mark.
A quick Google gives that present GSCE computer programming project is 30% of final mark.
I taught myself programming at home aged ~8 an onward. I took GCSE and A-level computer science at night school, at an earlier than normal age, and in addition to my high-school courses. When I reached (UK) college Physics there was compulsory programming courses and people without skills had to play catch up.

Re:GCSE and A levels (1)

pjt33 (739471) | about a year ago | (#44061791)

Really? I did GCSE IT in the late 90s and I was unusual in actually doing some programming for the project. We didn't learn actual programming in the course, and most people just created some hyperlinked pages in an Archimedes multimedia package called Genesis. The handful of people who did CompSci A-level did do some programming.

Re:GCSE and A levels (1)

Brit_in_the_USA (936704) | about a year ago | (#44066317)

I can only assume you had an exam board that didn't mandate a programming based project. Try goggling a few such as WJEC GCSE and you will see a programming project is core. For A level I had to write two pieces of software IIRC for core projects.

Re:GCSE and A levels (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44062009)

As a child of the 80's who took O'Levels which were phased out in 1987 in favour of GCSE's. I took Computer Studies which included programming in BASIC. I had to submit two programs (if I remember correctly they were a records system for sports club and a program that calculated compound interest). The course covered things such as what made up a CPU, RAM v ROM, etc. What different programming languages were used for (i.e what COBOL, FORTRAN Pascal and Assembler were). I suspect that Computer Studies was phased out in favour of ICT (a horrid little phrase) when the sylabuses were reviewed. I suspect that there was shortage of teachers who could teach programming.

I think that re-introducing Computer Studies is a good idea but I do wonder where they are going to get qualified Computer Studies teachers, as most people I know who have degrees in Computer Science/Software Engineering have gone into industry. I suspect that they are going to struggle as why would you want to teach when you can earn more money in Industry. Those who can do etc.

Can Anyone Tell Me Why This Mattters? (1)

Afty0r (263037) | about a year ago | (#44061441)

So a decade ago they stopped teaching computer programming in UK schools.

And in the last decade, what... has London stopped being a major Tech Hub? Is there a shortage of good young programmers looking for jobs in London?

The answers to both of those questions is NO. So *my* question is this - if teaching computer programming in schools or not teaching it has no discernable effect, why bother wasting time on lessons on it when they could be devoted to something else?

Re:Can Anyone Tell Me Why This Mattters? (1)

waspleg (316038) | about a year ago | (#44061685)

I'm an American, so I can't speak for London. However, I also work in public education. I agree with you.

I can also tell you that it will be a cold day in hell before they offer programming classes over Math/English when *everything* is being cut back consistently and dramatically year to year. There Isn't Enough Money (TM) is the incessant refrain and the answer to *every* Why not? There are various reasons why there isn't enough money. Most of them stem from corruption at every level; Federal on down.

Re:Can Anyone Tell Me Why This Mattters? (1)

Microlith (54737) | about a year ago | (#44061703)

This logic could be used to justify not teaching virtually any subject. The irony here being that computers impact our lives more than anything else these days, yet people on Slashdot will argue against educating kids in how they are controlled.

Re:Can Anyone Tell Me Why This Mattters? (1)

waspleg (316038) | about a year ago | (#44061781)

The kids I see can't type. Some of them can't use a mouse. Most of them use CAPSLOCK when they mean Shift. ALL of them have cellphones, which they are much more deft at manipulating and are bigger narcissists than the vapid "stars" they idolize.

Why should they be in a programming class when they can't form a complete sentence? I'm serious. It's really, REALLY sad in public education. The bar is far lower than I think most of Slashdot's audience even knows exists outside of the "Third World".

Re:Can Anyone Tell Me Why This Mattters? (1)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about a year ago | (#44064209)

The kids I see can't type. Some of them can't use a mouse. Most of them use CAPSLOCK when they mean Shift.

So your argument is what, "kids don't know how to use computers, so we shouldn't be teaching them how to use computers"?

Why should they be in a programming class when they can't form a complete sentence?

I can only assume you work in a school for children with diagnosed mental disorders. Either that or you should be calling social services, because they're clearly suffering neglect.

If, on the other hand, your complaint is that they can't form a correct complete sentence, then that probably means you're using the wrong rules. It is all well and good that you want them to speak "standard" English, but that doesn't mean that their local dialect is wrong.

And finally, how does omitting computing from the curriculum improve their literacy? Is radiation from the computer zapping their brains or something? I don't get it....

Re:Can Anyone Tell Me Why This Mattters? (1)

mpe (36238) | about a year ago | (#44064281)

The kids I see can't type. Some of them can't use a mouse. Most of them use CAPSLOCK when they mean Shift.

I've seen plenty of adults use Caps Lock to enter a single capital. These include teachers.
Some of them easily old enough to have been around when you'd press the Shift key on a typewriter to release Caps Lock...

Re:Can Anyone Tell Me Why This Mattters? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44064067)

Some people are weird, we all use refrigerators, but schools don't teach us re-frig tech. Who cares, stick to the 3 r's and leave it alone. In America we obsess over race and social crap so much its all that's really taught or cared about so go on.

Re:Can Anyone Tell Me Why This Mattters? (1)

xaxa (988988) | about a year ago | (#44062001)

if teaching computer programming in schools or not teaching it has no discernable effect, why bother wasting time on lessons on it when they could be devoted to something else?

AIUI, they're replacing what's called IT, but TFA refers to as 'secretary skills' (using MS Word).

Re:Can Anyone Tell Me Why This Mattters? (1)

pbhj (607776) | about a year ago | (#44065079)

Yes, rather dishonest to categorise Information [Communication] Technology as only secretarial skills. DBAs, video producers, sound technicians, web designers ... all secretarial positions apparently.

I'm all for encouraging programming and consider that an element of programming can be a great boon to most people. However, this is being done at the expense of ICT which is also a great benefit to people. The majority don't need to be concerned with low level programming, algorithm efficiency and such; they probably don't have the nous for it TBH. However, nearly everyone can benefit from being able to produce a spreadsheet or edit a video or put together a simple web page.

AFAICT, and having talked to an ICT teacher about it, it seems there is a dearth of qualified and motivated teachers to teach computer science too.

IMO if more programming was to be introduced to the curriculum it should have come in with some algorithms in mathematics initially, some simple programming mixed in with ICT for the higher achievers. Then let the A-level Computer Science curriculum pick up those who have decided to take those elements further.

Re:Can Anyone Tell Me Why This Mattters? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44064253)

The current crop of kids coming into the IT industry are shit. I'm hiring physics graduates as they tend to have the most coding experience. UK was a world leader in software in the 80s.

Re:Can Anyone Tell Me Why This Mattters? (1)

Teun (17872) | about a year ago | (#44064541)

How is teaching an elementary skill wasting time?

Please realise computers are contrary to 50 years ago an indispensable part of our life and teaching all some basics about the way these computers are run is never a waste.
On the other hand I can imagine programming and it's ilk are fundamental logic and should/could be part of regular or enhanced mathematics instruction.

That there has been no effect due to the lack of teaching computer skills is an wholly unsupported claim, for example we all know how irresponsible computer illiterate people can be regarding their use of the internet.
Some basic training for all in the fundamentals of programming might very well improve the overall attitude to computer use and security.

Re:Can Anyone Tell Me Why This Mattters? (1)

pbhj (607776) | about a year ago | (#44065113)

>"Some basic training for all in the fundamentals of programming might very well improve the overall attitude to computer use and security." //

Unfortunately computer _use_ and secure _use_ of computers is not really a part of computer science; that's more ICT really and ICT is what's being killed to make way for computer science.

not enough (1)

Sperbels (1008585) | about a year ago | (#44061467)

Well, they had elective programming courses when I was in school...but I already knew how to code. I think I would have been more interested in electronics and microcontroller programming. That's something I'd also like to see more of in schools. The most I learned about electronics in school is that I got to solder together a couple of kits. Didn't learn a damn thing about them except how to solder and read the color codes on resistors.

"We don't need no education..." (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44061549)

"We don't need no education..."

Why programming was taken out... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44061555)

... because the vast majority of teachers are unqualified to teach programming. Most schools don't have tech literate teachers, that will change over time but I remember when I was in school. Our 'programming' classes were non-existent.

Re:Why programming was taken out... (1)

slim (1652) | about a year ago | (#44061681)

... and if you don't fix it, then in 7 years' time, when today's 13 year olds are thinking of entering the teaching profession, there *still* won't be any programming-literate teachers. So you have to bootstrap things somehow.

should be more trades / tech school like and not t (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#44061767)

should be more trades / tech school like and not the system where you stay in the school system for your full like and don't see a lot of real IT / tech work.

Re:should be more trades / tech school like and no (1)

mjwalshe (1680392) | about a year ago | (#44061889)

In the Uk this is the last thing we need pigeonholing programming as a low skill low pay "trade" Job.

Re:should be more trades / tech school like and no (1)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about a year ago | (#44064307)

True. The problem is that we stigmatised our (world class) Further Education system in the 80s and encouraged the polytechnics to become universities. Rather than giving prestige to a technical education, we belittled it and said that the only qualification worth having is the degree. Now they're constantly telling us the degrees are too abstract and need to be more vocationally focused.

We need to look at France. In France, there are various types of tertiary education, each respected as being appropriate for its subject. I was working in an IUT, something equivalent to a polytechnic, but it is not the soft option UK colleges were always considered to be. There are competitive exams and selection to enter. The best and brightest go there. If students are struggling in the first semester, they are regularly advised to go to uni instead, and try to salvage their year by doing something easier.

Then there's the engineering schools, different again from the university system, and again very prestigious.

So no, we don't want programming pigeon-holed as low skill work, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be rebuilding the vocational education network -- it just means that we should be giving it the prestige that it always deserved.

Not sure its spelled correctly (1)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | about a year ago | (#44061857)

If you are going to teach kids Maths, you have to teach them Codes as well, or at least Programs.

Re:Not sure its spelled correctly (1)

moderators_are_w*nke (571920) | about a year ago | (#44063893)

I prefer Mathematic

Make it fun and good luck (2)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | about a year ago | (#44061937)

My two comments are make it fun. Basically if you aren't teaching them to make games or something internet related then you are wasting your time. Teaching fundamentals such as linked lists to people who are fundamentally not interested (the vast majority) is just cruel. But if you get them making simple games that get more and more complex then you might have them. Also getting them to do mashups or something like accessing the API of whatever is cool that week (snapchat, etc) might win some hearts and minds.

Years ago I bought a book when learning SQL that blah blah blahed about genealogy. The guy was going to take you through building a genealogy database. So he starts off with a long boring genealogy tutorial teaching terms like matrilineal; boring. Why not keep it simple. Data goes in, data goes out. So keep the classes as fresh as possible. Even twitter APIs might be tool old at this point.

But the next thing is good luck. My daughters are in a pretty typical public school system and no matter how hard the schools try to "Join the computer age" they can barely break out of 1985. A simple example of their "Hot new tech" is that they now have a robodialer that bothers me with great long winded messages that are often not even grade relevant. Have they not heard of email?

So I can see a situation where you set up a bunch of students on Raspberry Pis that can be wiped (literally) in a flash and still end up with the school IT people saying that it isn't an approved OS, that you aren't running the approved software and that according to the rules you must teach the students the only approved language: Pascal.
So for anyone trying to spill a small sampling of the 21st century into their schools, just remember that the school board might be worried about the students sniffing the ether out of your ethernet.

Programs to "cheat" on homework (1)

tepples (727027) | about a year ago | (#44062641)

Basically if you aren't teaching them to make games or something internet related then you are wasting your time.

When I was in high school, I managed to expose a bunch of classmates to TI-83 graphing calculator programming when I showed them how to load programs that run the formulas seen in unit conversion problems, stoichiometry, and the like. Tie the programming assignments in to the rest of the curriculum and you'll get the point across that computers are tools to automate things.

according to the rules you must teach the students the only approved language: Pascal.

Why can't Free Pascal [freepascal.org] be recompiled for the Raspberry Pi?

Re:Make it fun and good luck (1)

pbhj (607776) | about a year ago | (#44065147)

They already do things like game design - eg using Scratch in ICT programs.

Scheme, How To Design Programs (1)

hendrikboom (1001110) | about a year ago | (#44061965)

Let Tim Gurney have a look at How To Design Programs, which is free to download and cheap on paper.

It teaches Scheme, which is an easy way to get a toe in the programming door, and you *can* subsequently do really awesome things with it, not just make trivial games.

See http://www.ccs.neu.edu/home/matthias/HtDP2e/ [neu.edu]

-- hendrik

Re:Scheme, How To Design Programs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44065071)

I prefer "Processing" as a starter language. See processing.org it's ooo and graphical based. Works on win+mac+Ubuntu etc. Kind of like a grown up "Logo".

Fun an engaging.

Why learn CS just to train your H-1B replacement? (2)

walterbyrd (182728) | about a year ago | (#44061997)

Want more people in CS, and engineering? Provide good jobs for those people. Stop offshoring like mad. Stop giving the few remaining jobs to lower paid visa workers.

There is a reason, a very good reason, that students are avoiding IT studies.

Re:Why learn CS just to train your H-1B replacemen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44062337)

Noooo - don't fix it! If you do, I won't have anything to do in my retirement years...

Unfortunately this is misdirected (1)

David Durant (2953337) | about a year ago | (#44062499)

The UK already has a plethora of organisations working in this area including, but not limited to, Apps for Good, Young Rewired State, Computing At Schools, Code Club and Digital Makers. If you have time and skills and want to work in this area please don't start yet another organisation - find out how you can bring your enthusiasm to an existing one.

Diversity? (1)

MedBob (96899) | about a year ago | (#44063021)

I look at this as a failing of Centralized decisions on Curriculum. If a whole country or a whole region decides on a slate of subjects, classes and goals, they had better get it right (btw... they NEVER do). If these decisions are made at the local level, you get thousands of different possible courses of study. Suppose you have a budding programming prodigy, and the whole country is tied into these (flawed) standards. You have nowhere to go, except outside the system.

Conversely, if City A decides that every kid should grow deep in their understanding of Coal Technology, and City B decides that Algebra and Python are important (with side orders of C++), folks have the option of moving to encourage the little nipper!!
The whole country is enriched as well because instead of an assembly line (ala Pink Floyd), you will have a wide diversity of Educational Experiences represented in the population.

If you believe that learning HOW to learn is important, you also will have a diversity of experiences.

Computer Science isn't "Programming" (1)

Theovon (109752) | about a year ago | (#44063125)

Computer Science is a theoretical discipline pertaining about things that you can make programs do and how programs are structured. It has always seemed to me that programming languages are just a tool that you learn on the side. Then again, I learned multiple programming languages before I finished high school, so my perspective may be a little skewed. What I can say is that my software designs after formal CS theoretical training are much better, because I'm smarter about how I go about solving problems. It also seems to me that if you don't have the motivation to learn some things on your own, then you're probably in the wrong degree program, because you're just not that interested. The people who try to breeze through a CS program on coursework alone are only there for the certification, and they're not the kinds of people I'd want to hire, because they're unlikely to give a crap enough about the job to do it well.

The U.K. has a very anti-skill culture. Good luck. (3, Insightful)

echtertyp (1094605) | about a year ago | (#44063647)

Even more than in the U.S., the U.K. has a culture where those with hard skills are dismissed as doing "grunt work." I think it is part of the unfortunate British heritage of class consciousness, where the ruling class was (and is) proud of their lack of domain specific knowledge and their role as management generalists. This has been disastrous for the fortunes of the U.K. in general, but culture is hard to change.

Can they teach IT properly first? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44063675)

I'm not too long out of school really, 22 years old now, and my UK 'ICT' education was a joke until I got to Sixth Form and chose to study Computing.

ICT lessons up until then were based around 3 of us cringing at the teacher failing to guide the 27 other students through basic Excel exercises (basic like 2 columns of numeric data and creating a graph from it). None of them managed it, none of them gave a fuck, and they still don't know how to do it because they don't care; it was the class to screw around in, and I saw the same thing in several schools.

Teaching programming is useless (1)

plopez (54068) | about a year ago | (#44065373)

Teaching content which requires programming; science, engineering, language emulation, biology, robotics, etc.; is a "two for one". They learn content and then use programming to analyze and explore that content. Programming without context is useless for most people.

As a Brit who's been programming for 30 years (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44066217)

I started out BASIC programming as a hobby with my first commodore machine aged 12, then took the computer studies option at school between age 14 and 16. This involved plenty of background theory (binary, octal and hexacedimal maths, plus some laughably ancient hardware stuff like having to know about magnetic core storage) and lots of practical BASIC programming on the then excellent BBC Micro which was used in most schools.

As my exam coursework I created a basic but fully functional option driven library system with ability to manage inventory of books and user accounts with checking in and out of books, reports of books checked out, overdue boks, etc.

This was a superb consolidation of all I'd learnt with my hobby programming and set me, like many thousands of others, in good stead for a subsequent successful career in development and IT consultancy.

I was truly appalled when I learnt exactly how 'computer studies' had been reduced to 'preparing office workers to use MS software', a situation that was not created entirely without close consultation with said company (free office licenses for schools, whoopee!)

I still think that much of that curriculum from all those years ago(obviously need to update the hardware aspects of it) would be an excellent foundation for a career in tech.

And I include teaching BASIC in that - it's a superb language for teaching the basic foundations of all other languages : as much as you may or not be a fan of stuff like PHP and Ruby (or my main skills, C++ and Java for that matter) they really aren't great for schoolkids to begin with from a base of not knowing anything about programming at all.

Anyway, hope more kids can get interested in programming again, whatever sort of curriculum they choose - the entry bar to making cool stuff is so much higher now than it was in the days of just affordable 8 bit machines with kilobytes of memory : an easy to use self contained dev and runtime environment that just runs as an app in a single window is sorely needed for those taking their first steps into programming.

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