This was written as a response to Pete Bell’s blogpost ICT and Computing in Schools – Harness a new dawn
AQA have attempted (2009)to take this issue seriously and consulted IBM, British Aerospace and other big corps to identify what they want from graduates. The answer, according to Barbara Wilson – chief examiner at the time – was business-savvy young people who understand how technology can add value to an organisation and the complicated process of implementing tech successfully. The new ICT A Level spec attempts to do this. I quite like it. Paper projects are still a problem. I hope to see the end of these shortly, but it is not easy to nurture the real-life project process without interaction (research, deliverables, testing) with users and clients. A controlled assessment approach might otherwise be a good idea. Fixed time frame. A range of problems set by the board. Effectively a practical exam.
The BIO takes this format but it is quite raw and difficult programming and I think there in lies part of the problem no-one seems to talk about. Programming is hard. [The one student I enter for the BIO – he got distinction last year – is the best mathematician the school has seen in 20 years.] I guess that’s why these conversations inevitably encourage everyone to start learning code young. I might, maybe after a pint, argue that all the visual programming simulators (Scratch et al) are doing a diservice to the cause. In Bob Noyce‘s final interview (in the 1990’s) he said that, if he were in charge of it all, he would like to “make sure we are preparing our next generation to flourish in a high-tech age. And that means education of the lowest and the poorest, as well as at the graduate school level.” I’m not sure these immediate gratification software applications are the answer. Love them as I do. The joy of programming is writing lines of code to achieve a solution to a problem – not make a game or an animation. Who would be interested in programming to visually uninteresting outcomes after the rich loveliness and quick win play of KODU.
My cigarette packet solution is the Maths curriculum. Maths is already embedded in the heart of every school and connected to programming via algorithms and logical sequencing etc. I feel that the most effective and efficient way we can impregnate coding into UK schools is via the same route as algebra and geometry. Who should we be talking to? Those in charge of Maths. What’s the probability of them saying yes? One or zero.