Friday, September 16, 2011

"14-year-olds to learn computer programming, Science Minister reveals"

That's the headline of this story which reveals a pilot program in secondary schools run with the assistance of IBM, Google, Capgemini, Microsoft and Cisco to get 14 year olds programming.

At the end of the article there's a short bit with your truly saying that kids should start way earlier than that:
John Graham-Cumming, a programmer who is campaigning for coding to be taught to primary school children, welcomed the pilot. “Children first need to learn to be literate, then they need to learn to be numerate and finally they need to learn to be ‘algorithm-ate’,” he said.

However, he added that ideally children would be introduced to computer programming at the age of 9 or 10. “We know that the core ideas can be learnt by little kids. If you taught reading really late people would form the view that it’s really hard and it’s the same for programming. If you don’t show children what it is they’ll develop the view that it’s hard, or even worse, dull by the time they’ve reached GCSE,” said Dr Graham-Cumming.

He said IT and programming were different skills. “IT is such a dull-sounding subject that conjures up helping someone out because their printer doesn’t work. It’s terrible that in the public’s mind programming is the same thing, because actually it’s like painting or writing in that it’s creating something new. Microsoft, Apple and Facebook were all started by people who knew how to programme.”
And, had I known about the company involvement, I'd be also wondering aloud why we are relying on American firms to help educate our children when we have perfectly good software companies in the UK.

Campaigning is rather a strong word for what I'm doing, but I am supporting this initiative.

1 comment:

David said...

I'm astonished that things have come to this. When I started 'O'-levels in the mid-70s, our education authority was one of several taking part in the ICL-CES (Computer Education in Schools) project. This provided text-books, videos, flowchart stencils and so on together with access to the local technical college's ICL 1900 batch service.

In the first year, we were taught programming in CESIL, a single accumulator assembly language of a dozen or so instructions. Those of us who 'got' programming could get on and write programmes that worked first time each week (oh yes - only one go round the batch cycle for each week's homework).

The second year introduced BASIC, explained by showing how a compiler might convert BASIC statements into CESIL.

In addition to programming, we learned how barrel printers printed, how core store worked (sense and inhibit wires and so on), logic (half adders, full adders &c), the difference between disk and tape, bits of history (Babbage, Hollerith), systems analysis - so much stuff. I loved the idea that there are people on supermarket checkouts that have at least attempted to write assembler.

All in all, an excellent course. I took the O-level and followed it up with an 'A'-level (BASIC and a cut down ICL1900 PLAN). By that time we had a teletype and an acoustic coupler to the local college.

When I left school, they were about to introduce microcomputers such as the RM 380Z. I just assumed that things developed from there. How can things have gone awry in this way?

Surely the quick solution is to return to the ICL CES project and give it a quick update (networking is the obvious omission).