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back to article Kids should be making software, not just using it - Gove

Education Secretary Michael Gove today proposed killing off Blighty's ICT curriculum in September to give it a thorough reboot. Launching a consultation into his plans, Gove suggested that from the start of the next academic year, schools should be able to teach what they want in computer classes. The Tory minister recommended …

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revolutionizing IT as we know it

It has occurred to me many times that if education could be accomplished by mission statements, the US would put Finland, Singapore, etc. to shame. I'm glad to see that that the UK is keeping up with us in this department.
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Teach python

It's simple and can cover simple imperative programming for the kids all the way up to OOP/Functional styles for the teenagers. Programming isn't hard, but we just fail to teach it.
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Randall Munroe would say Perl: http://xkcd.com/519/
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Yep, Tom is absolutely correct. Too many mediocre programmers think that they've got super powers which ordinary mortals lack. Nonsense. Practically anyone but the educationally subnormal can program. Sure, they won't all be great programmers. But there are plenty of arts graduates who could do as well as the 95% of programmers who aren't extraordinarily gifted.
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Re: Teach Python

Any idiot can write anything in a any language. Teach problem solving
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Anonymous Coward

but who will teach IT?

Last year, England and Wales enrolled 28500 newly qualified teachers. Out of those, only 750 had included an ICT module in their post graduate studies. But only 3 - yes, you read that right *three*, had a degree in IT. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to teach programming and more detailed aspects of IT, but we also need the qualified staff to do so.
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Teach theory.

"Any idiot can write anything in a any language." - as someone who from time to time hire programmers, I have to agree. My problem, as an employer, is to find someone who ISN'T an idiot. Doesn't help if you teach them bad habits early.
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Vic
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> Practically anyone but the educationally subnormal can program.

I don't think I agree with that.

Practically anyone can write something that executes. But to catch all the corner-cases requires an attention to detail that I find largely lacking in most people I meet.

The practical upshot of all this is that practically anyone can write crap, but it takes a really *pedantic* class of coder to write something defensive...

Vic.

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Anonymous Coward

"Any idiot can write anything in a any language."

Evidently, you don't even rate as well as an idiot then. Also, I've seen most of the CS students in a upper division college course struggle with the concept of a foreach statement to believe that.

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I'll admint my error, which I realised immediately after submitting my comment, was to forget that some people can only read things literally and overlook the gist of a comment. The latter seems to be a common trait of many programmers and indeed commentards.

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Who needs a CS degree?

I guarantee that most of the IT guys from my generation the BBC B/Master era were not taught by CS grads we were taught by people with something far more important enthusiasm and passion.

My GCSE teacher raised the funds for his computer lab almost single handedly and was a great teacher.

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Anonymous Coward

Qualifications to teach

Gordon10:Would you entrust the teaching of maths to somebody who has no qualification in the subject above A-Level?

I really want this to work, but I firmly believe we need to invest in both the kids *and* the teachers to make it happen effectively.

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Anonymous Coward

Programming is hard for those who don't have the aptitude

...like music is, or acting.

The last thing we need is more bad programmers.

And python isn't that simple: I've seen java people seriously struggle with it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re Qualifications to teach

Down-voted for wanting to invest in the teachers as well?

That speaks volumes about why we let the teaching of IT related skills slip over the last two decades.

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Re: Qualifications to teach

I'm one of the downvoters. In principle, I agree with what you are saying (i.e. put some money into producing the teachers.). However, I don't think we *need* a maths graduate to teach maths to sub-degree classes, history graduate to teach history to sub-degree classes, nor IT graduates to teach IT to sub-degree classes. What we need is excellent teachers with moderate specialisations. "Teaching" should be, in general, a graduate subject in itself, not a bolt-on for people who wanted to something else, but couldn't find a job and so drifted into teaching as a way to pay the bills. (However, of course, there should be a way for people with other skills to become teachers if they wish).

What I am saying is that a good teacher of any given basic subject does not need to have an in-depth knowledge of it. For instance, I remember being taught the same subject by (first) a very good teacher of maths, for whom the subject was not her speciality, but which she taught excellently, bringing me up to the standard where I was transferred from the CSE group to the O-level group - an achievement for both of us. However, the new group was taught by a mathematically very good recent maths graduate, but with no teaching skills at all. I did get an O-level, but only just, and only by going to the first teacher for help.

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Anonymous Coward

Final thought on qualifications

Having got to the O-level class, the reason why you then under-performed was because your teacher was fundamentally poor rather than his or her maths qualification.

I work in education. Teaching is a different skill than being able to code, or research history, or work in engineering. We absolutely need professional teachers and for the most part have them, but we can't expect the highest quality, detailed education, especially beyond O-level from teachers who are not specialists in their field. The best outcome is achieved by those who have a detailed knowledge & understand their subject matter and at the same time can teach effectively - quite a challenge, but one we must rise to if we want the best for our young people.

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This is a great idea

and should be expanded to cover other subjects such as History, English and Geography. No more having to learn the names of British Kings and Queens, no more learning the Capital Cities of the world. And especillly not grammer and speling to lern.
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Anonymous Coward
yeah becouse powerpoint and excel use is something most kids don't pick up in those other classes anyway... o wait Knowing an ICT teacher who says that basically it's crap and a waste of time and doesn't teach anything that students don't learn in other lessons and having done ICT towards the end of the 90s and having had a brother who did it into the 00's and friends that only recently left college I can say it's moved on little from an abject waste of time, I remember it focusing on speed typing and me and the other kids basically used it as an opportunity to do nothing. Often the work in an ICT lesson was "write up your home work from another lesson." I didn't even bother going for it as a gcse subject.
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"yeah becouse powerpoint and excel use is something most kids don't pick up in those other classes anyway" Bang on the money. Teaching kids how to use MS Office ain't IT, and it's not even useful. They pick it up elsewhere. The problem at the moment (and for the foreseeable future) is that it's impossible to get any experience of programming unless you do it yourself. That means learning from the interwebs or a family member. That then means that you either won't have any interest in a computer science course at uni because you've never been exposed to it before, or you do, but you learnt everything you know from the interwebs so you've got some un-learning to do at uni. Either way, we're making it hard to produce top notch comp sci's.
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Using Office is what I would call basic IT or office working skills. But there are other subjects that only really teach you about things, they don't really let you create. You aren't allowed to mix up or experiment in science, you aren't allowed to invent your own games in PE and you don't invent your own religion in RE. But computing subjects would be better off aligning themselves with craft and art subjects. Even though in reality they're fairly close to maths.
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Anonymous Coward

"No more having to learn the names of British Kings and Queens"

Bring it! Go back more than a couple of hundred years and you'll find that most of them were a bunch of c__ts who would make very unpleasant company indeed. You wouldn't be able to find a boot big enough to kick their arses out of your house if they invited themselves round for dinner, which by all accounts they did if you were rich enough and on their radar.

By all means learn about what some of these tyrants and their chums did, and particularly why all that was very bad and not what we should be aiming for as a species, but learning the names by rote as if it somehow confers intellect is just padding out time for the pupils and phoning it in on the part of the educators involved.

At school, I'd rather have learned about the historical events that influence and explain the world as it is today than what the names of the wives of King Henry the C__t were.

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Sounds good

And with the Raspberry Pi (amongst other) coming along, it could be just the ticket. I hope MS allow it to happen.
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@The Big Yin

The lobbying behind Microsoft's interest in this got us into this mess and won't help us get out of it. If MS have a veto, then why on earth should they want more programmers to be educated ? More programmers means more competition and less demand for their products. This reminds me of the mushroom school of management: keep them in the dark, feed them horse manure and don't let them grow too large before you sell them out.
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It's a MASSIVE CONSPIRACY

Yeah, that must be it! Microsoft is engaged in a MASSIVE CONSPIRACY to eradicate computer programmers from the market who may, theoretically, challenge their monopoly, and in doing so Microsoft want to increase the scarcity of programmers, thus driving up their production costs!!!11one! It's a MASSIVE CONSPIRACY! (Has anyone got some coloured biros I could use to decorate this reply?)
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@PyLETS

It's highly unlikely that kids who take in interest in programming will then grow up and write an OS or an alternative Office program. It is, however, likely that they will grow up to create desktop/ mobile apps etc, thus CREATING demand for MS products, such as Visual Studio. That's why Microsoft now give away VS for free to Uni students etc., on the proviso they use it for educational purposes, and pay for a licence once they create something commercial.
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Stop

Embrace, extend and extinguish

Standard MS practice (see title). No doubt the kids will come out of school with qualifications in mainly mickeysoft related technology. I don't think MickySoft want to increase the scarcity of programmers, they want to increase the number of programmers that only know mickeysoft products. Coloured biros????? Just get a set of highlighter pens from the stationary press... :-)
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It's a step in the right direction...

Can't get much worse than it is now so cautious welcome here !
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Anonymous Coward

boring

Well Gove has done a big favour - not - to the existing ICT teachers by telling the world that the subject as it stands is boring. But he is probably right because he knows all about boring - did you see the party political lecture that he delivered to some school-kids the other day?
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Anonymous Coward

Gove?

I remember his phoney outrage about something or other on Newsnight. I agree with him about ICT and programming, but he's a sh*t actor!

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Vic
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> he's a sh*t actor!

That last word was somewhat superfluous...

Vic.

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WTF?

Eh? It *IS* dull and uninspiring - not to mention a pile of shite. Building webpages in MS Publisher for GCSE IS? Do me a favour... When was the last time you saw something interesting, online, get built in Publisher? Virtually everything in IS and ICT was introduced to kids years before they started taking it as a lesson.

Existing ICT teachers need a kick up the arse. They're just taking a salary for supervising an hour of web browsing, as it is.

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About time

When I was a lad I did a GCSE and and then an A-Level in Computer Science (not ICT!) that set me on my way to a career as a software engineer. The language being taught does not really matter. I learnt BBC Basic. It was enough to spark the interest and it went from there. Actually come to think of it we did a bit of Logo in primary school on the only school computer. My 15-yr old daughter hates her ICT classes as they are so boring. I say that if they still need to teach some Word/Excel that they should do it as part of the English and Maths lessons. A couple of weeks of lessons on how to make stuff bold and underlined and simple formulas/graphs should be enough really. So I give this initiative a big thumbs up. With a son who might be doing this I might finally be able to help one of my kids with their homework!
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It's a good idea, switching teaching Word to the English curriculum and Excel to the mathematics one. Computer courses should be about, well, computers: how they work under the hood. Why is this so seldom the case? Four years ago I took pre-engineering courses here in Canada and there was an eye-gougingly bad MANDATORY course on Word and Excel (which even required us to hand in our assignments on floppies... have you ever heard of servers, you fools?) which was so pointless that I openly rebelled, much to the enjoyment of my fellow students. Things were not much better in actual engineering school. They taught us a dead-end C-based math tool that was less powerful, more abstruse and far, far less common than, say, Python but had the advantage of stroking the ego of the professor, who'd coded the P.O.S. language. Then they proceeded to teach C++ without ever talking about a scripting language. This succeeded in convincing the vast majority of future civil engineers that computers are stupid tools to solve problems with, since if you try to use them to solve a problem you wind up with many more problems and a lot less time on your hands. This is not to say, of course, that C++ is useless. But, in 12 years of Python development (including many scientific and some fairly computationally-intensive tasks) the sum total number of times I have needed to resort to a C-oid module for performance is precisely zero. Which, by my figuring, puts me way ahead of someone who'd slavishly adhered to the only languages I was taught in school (the complete list: BASIC, Fortran, C, C++).
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Anonymous Coward
I remember messing about with Dark Basic and the joy my little 5 year old got from changing a few values in the "scripts" I had written to bounce 3D apples and footballs around the screen was priceless. She loved changing the values and seeing the effects on the screen in front of her, it wasn't just push a button and something happens she started thinking about what effect different numbers had on how the balls bounced around the screen. Alright it wasn't rocket science but it was enough to get her to realise basic cause and effect in a simple logical experiment. We need to give kids some kid of feedback from computers, realise there is more to computers than just tools. If after they have been taught what's going on behind all those windows they decide to go further great, if not well at least they may not take their gadgets quite so much for granted in future.
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Yes, word processing in any language-based subject and spreadsheets in maths or anything else that is suited. Useful tools, might be considered essential these days but once the basics are down they don't need their own lessons. Frankly I wish I'd spent the hours wasted on trying to make my handwriting something other than a hideous scrawl on learning pivot tables instead.
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Facepalm

Cause and effect.

My partner at the times daughter was good at cause and effect - she was generally the cause of stunned disbelief - the causation of which she enjoyed no end, as well as the results (Laura & I were usually laughing too hard to tell her off). This girl by the way is a pretty blonde blue eyed cherub with a PhD in looking innocent...

The highlight of her career thus far was, at the age of 4, when asked by the Sunday School teacher of all people "what do you want to be when you grow up?" was to wait until she was sure everyone was listening.. and say very loudly and clearly "I wanna be a lesbian when I grow up...". The teacher was stunned, L was in hysterics with laughter - and all the parents had that 'oh god' look because they knew full well the next question from their kids would be "whats a lesbian...?".

We dont give kids enough credit for what they pick up and when in this country. Its plain fact that kids learn very quickly from 3 years old or so, and it gets slower as time progresses. So it amazes that kids 3-10 are basically treated like buck toothed idiots in general, and then suddenly become sinks for information at 12? no wonder they lose interest. Its I think a subset of that thing where peoples perception says kids dont have a sexuality or healthy interest in the opposite sex/same sex/both at once/family dog until their gender expression and sexuality chip is installed at 00:00 GMT on their 16th birthday.

Practically any child has the ability to do practically anything (I mean, if William Hague can be in the government, theres hope for us all), so its criminal that we proscribe and control the very people we are berating 5 or 10 years later for being apathetic and disconnected.

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Anonymous Coward
Whilst I agree that schools need to teach computer science rather than ICT, I can't see how this particular idea can possibly work in practice. If schools can teach what they want then every school will be teaching something different. How are the exam boards going to cope with that? What if a school teaches SQL and C++ and the exam questions are on HTML and Cobol?
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It will be like it used to be

Exam boards set the syllabus, schools can choose from a variety of exam boards. Currently, Whitehall sets the syllabus…
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Look at who's behind proposing this...

Games! We need more Games!
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@Games, we need more games

Yes, probably.

There is no point in asking school kids to write an accountancy package. Boring!

What we need is school kids to be enthusiastic. So get them to write something they would like to write.

Games can teach them a lot of things. It is also likely to teach them the importance of performance rather than just assuming that Intel will make a faster box soon so if your app runs like shit, do worry the hardware will fix it one day. The kids will want it to work well now, so they can play NOW.

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Anonymous Coward
It's a great step forward. My serious concern, and this is from experience, is a lot of programming is beyond IT (I refuse to call it ICT) teachers. This really does need addressing first with proper training where applicable and not just some hodge bodge resources thrown together from the Internet.
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Yes indeedy

However it will never attract real programmers whilst it is really a MOUS GCSE - if it becomes possible to teach real programming maybe more competent teachers can be attracted?
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Teachers

I think you underestimate teachers. Have a look at the MIT Scratch environment that it seems Gove is endorsing. It's not my cup of tea, and wouldn't be my choice for teaching kids, but it is a relatively basic environment that appears to teach the basic principles. I'd imagine teachers would be able to pick it up quickly enough, assuming the resources are there to train them.
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Actually its pretty good

The open university chose it as there beginners programming language. I was very doubtful, but after seeing the results its pretty good. Its tied to some boards and allow simple I/O such as light detection motors etc. The real question is whether some learning scratch can then go on to learn a 'real' programming language
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@John Wilson

Unfortunately I really do not underestimate a good proportion of teachers. The saying "Those that can do, those that can't teach" has never been truer than it is at the moment. I worked around teachers in schools for years, and a large minority will struggle with the most basics of programming, and that is for the 'specialist' IT teachers before we even start talking about the many non-specialist teaching IT and other subjects in schools today. The British education system is shocking.
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@Myself

Do forgive me, I mean a 'large percentage' not 'large minority'. I should proof read a little better.
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point of view?

Interesting that you go for the George Bernard Shaw quote of "He who can, does. He who can not, teaches" rather than the Aristotle quote of "Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach".

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Linux

Scratch the itch

The Scratch Web site has some documentation aimed at teachers, and teachers in the US have been building their own scratch 'projects' - there is a lot out there in terms of lesson planning already.

Scratch is programmed in Squeak (modern form of SmallTalk). You can export programs as Java applets. You can (with a bit of jiggery pokery) access Squeak core objects from within the Scratch graphical front end. You can add your own extensions.

Could be fun if the educrats can avoid smothering it all with assessment requirements...

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@Teachers

Well at least in the case of primary schools, where one teacher is supposed to be able to teach every subject, they are having enough trouble already. Primary schools already seem to have given up teaching maths. My youngest is just in his last year of Primary school, his assessment for maths indicates who'd be doing well for someone two years old, but he'd barely covered the topics I covered at ago 7. Basically no algebra, no trig, wouldn't know what a log was to save his life, never been asked to solve anything.

Sadly I don't think the teachers that are there are going to be able to teach people the logical thought process involved in learning to program.

Unless you have enthusiastic teachers who are personally interested in computers and programming, I can see them struggling.

Still I suspect that soon many of the kids will be able to help the teachers learn it.

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@Dazed and Confused

I haven't kept up with how things have changed in teaching at primary level, but I'm fairly certain that (in the 1960s) my teachers were not expert in anything other than teaching. Between starting school and 7yoa I certainly only had one teacher for everything, and I was never below the curve in any subject (except PE!) I worry that this endless specialisation and measurement is part of the educational problem. Find enthusiastic teachers, remove the constraints, and let the kids fly!

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