back to article Kids' Hour of Code turns into a giant corporate infomercial for kids

A leading education advisor to government ministers in the UK has criticised the aggressive proliferation of software in schools as a "gimmick", and called for ministers to "drain the swamp". British schoolchildren will play Minecraft for an hour as Microsoft's contribution to the global "Hour of Code", a stunt intended to …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Perhaps all that Hour of Code is really teaching is short attention spans?

    They should just use DevOps. DevOps will teach them better coding practices, make them more useful members of society, regulate their hormones and contains several important vitamins. And learning it is quite cheap, a great investment!

    DevOps! All Sing Together!

    (still waiting for that TrumpPalmFace or TrumpWildHair icon...)

    1. d3vy Silver badge

      Re: Perhaps all that Hour of Code is really teaching is short attention spans?

      Dev ops : it's got electrolyte's

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Perhaps all that Hour of Code is really teaching is short attention spans?

        Dev ops : it's got electrolyte's

        And it appears to cause adding spurious apostrophes.

        1. Swarthy Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: Perhaps all that Hour of Code is really teaching is short attention spans?

          Given the reference, I'm not certain that that rogue apostrophe wasn't intentional.

          ^An example of the convoluted NOT-logic that you sometimes need (and will see far more often) when coding.

        2. d3vy Silver badge

          Re: Perhaps all that Hour of Code is really teaching is short attention spans?

          "And it appears to cause adding spurious apostrophes."

          My phone seems to think that its correct and keeps auto correcting it.. I hadnt* noticed it before posting.

          * Intentionally missed this one to make up for the additional one earlier - think of it as an apostrophe offset.

    2. VinceH Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Perhaps all that Hour of Code is really teaching is short attention spans?

      Regulation of hormones is what they get from hyperconverged DevOps - not vanilla DevOps.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Interesting

    One memory that always stayed with me, one day in elementary school in the 70s our teacher said "those who do not know how to use computers will be tomorrow's illiterate people". Never paid much attention in school, but glad that day I did.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Interesting

      I heard pretty much the same thing and latched onto computers anyway I could as I was from a very poor family so my opportunities were severely limited.

      Thank god I did, but I was and always will be behind the curve. Which is still better than the alternative which was labor and trades for life and even less income security.

    2. Trilkhai

      Re: Interesting

      I guess we haven't actually reached that "tomorrow" quite yet, as we currently have a society full of people who know which icon to click to start web browsers (or in their minds, "the Internet"), but whose spelling & writing skills are on par with lagging ESL students from the '90s.

      Or to put it another way, if the average person's tech skills are the modern equivalent of literacy in the 70s, then education in our nations has been in crisis mode for a *long* time.

  3. 0laf Silver badge

    Minecraft as a way to force Win 10 in education

    MS isn't daft they're heavily promoting Minecraft for education, and teacher being teachers they are all suckers for the latest bit of gimmickry. Anything but chalk and talk.

    But MS have done their usual bit of marketing slight of hand and have withdrawn Minecraft for education for Windows 7. It will only now be available on Windows 10. So local authority and education boards now have droves of slathering teachers demanding Minecraft and by default Win10 too. And clearly all children are doomed to a life of unemployment and drug abuse if they can't prove to employers their skill in playing with a little blocky game.

    Except they haven't consider that the other 90% of ancient educational crap they still use won't work or will takes months to sort out. Thanks MS you shower of bastards.

    [disclaimer] I've nothing against Minecraft as a game, there are worse things kids can play but I object to MS using it as a way to lever Win10 and I object to teacher using it as a way to teach without actually teaching.

    1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: Minecraft as a way to force Win 10 in education

      Surely every school has a bunch of underused Raspberry Pis that will run Minecraft perfectly?

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Minecraft as a way to force Win 10 in education

        Minecraft for the Pi has been retired.

        Not sure if it was Minecraft Educational Edition or just plain Minecraft either.

        1. Old Used Programmer

          Re: Minecraft as a way to force Win 10 in education

          News to me... MinecraftPi is still part of the latest download of Raspbian.

      2. Rob 44

        Re: Minecraft as a way to force Win 10 in education

        Minecraft isn't as low spec as you seem to think.

        It actually uses a hell of a lot of resources. Using optifine and a few other choice plugins I saw it make a friends very expensive gaming rig crawl on its knees.

        1. Steve Todd

          Re: Minecraft as a way to force Win 10 in education

          @Rob 44: Erm, isn't that an enditement of Microsoft programming?

        2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Minecraft as a way to force Win 10 in education

          One of my (now grown up) kids says that the reason why Minecraft makes *any* computer crawl is because it does not use the GPU efficiently (or even much beyond a basic frame buffer if I understood what he was saying), and uses the CPU to render into a pixmap.

          He once had an interesting hobby of capturing the most extreme way of making it grind to a halt, and then posting the videos on YouTube.

    2. Adair

      Re: Minecraft as a way to force Win 10 in education

      Just use Minetest -- www.minetest.net

      Problem of MS solved.

      1. Simone

        Re: Minecraft as a way to force Win 10 in education

        The Raspberry Pi version of Minecraft did (does) not do the same things gameplay wise as the game version of Minecraft. It has a Python interface, so you can write code to add blocks, move blocks and player, etc. Minecraft is just the visualisation tool into which you put your code.

        Microsoft has discontinued development on the Pi edition (no surprise there?) but it can still be installed, as is still in the latest releases of the Raspbian OS.

        +1 for Minetest

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Minecraft as a way to force Win 10 in education

      Who didn't expect things to turn nasty once they'd bought it?

  4. heyrick Silver badge

    Duh

    Nobody could figure this out by looking at the list of sponsors?

    You don't need Microsoft and Apple to start to teach coding. You need a teacher capable of explaining what a problem is, how to get from A to B, and how to break that into clearly defined steps. Then, and only then, should one think of touching a computer.

    As you can see, it can be a skill applicable to more than just writing software.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Duh

      As you can see, it can be a skill applicable to more than just writing software.

      This is why the Gradgrind approach to education is now preferable to anything which teaches kids to think for themselves.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Duh

      > You don't need Microsoft and Apple to start to teach coding

      You do not need a *computer* to start coding. I learned first, with a book, pencil and paper, and only once my parents were satisfied that I knew what I was doing they went and bought me an actual computer.

      1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        Re: Duh - coding on pencil and paper

        Back in the day, us dinosaurs used to write our code on sheets of paper called

        Coding Forms.

        {remembering not to go beyond column 72}

        Then we would give the sheets to the people who'd turn those sheets into punched cards.

        Then they'd be run as batch jobs on Mainframes from the likes of IBM and ICL.

        I still have all the cards for a few of my programs that used Punched Cards.

        We graduated to Papertape and ASR-33's.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Duh - coding on pencil and paper

          Luxury!

        2. Chika

          Re: Duh - coding on pencil and paper

          You haven't really coded unless you tried to type on an ASR33! THUNK! THUNK! THUNK! <return>

          Now those were the days!

          (And I still have some coding sheets somewhere...)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Duh - coding on pencil and paper

            >> Back in the day, us dinosaurs [blah]

            > You haven't really coded unless [bleh]

            Now you lot stop it or my butterflies and I are going to have to go for 378.

            You've been warned.

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Duh - coding on pencil and paper

            "(And I still have some coding sheets somewhere...)"

            Same here when I did GCE O level computer studies. We also got to type stuff in on 5 hole paper tape machines that looked like something Babbage might have used. The "blind" tape punch machines looked like ancient typewriters but the two with an actual teletype-like printer were built as an entire desk unit.

            1. Chika

              Re: Duh - coding on pencil and paper

              The "blind" tape punch machines looked like ancient typewriters but the two with an actual teletype-like printer were built as an entire desk unit.

              Sounds a bit like the ASR33s or the ITT Creeds I used to work on when I did my A level. We weren't allowed to program from scratch on those though, hence the coding sheets. They were for editing only and we had to share because there were more of us than them. I did try out the punch tape system a few times though the most punch tape I ever had was a distro kit for one of the earlier RSTS/E versions when I started working for a certain local authority back in the 80s. All gone now...

              Oi, Reg! We still haven't got that old farts icon I asked for yet!

          3. veti Silver badge

            Re: Duh - coding on pencil and paper

            Huh. Sending cards away to run on mainframes? Luxury!

            The first computer I built involved a cereal box and a pack of crayons. And homemade punch cards.

        3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Duh - coding on pencil and paper @Steve Davies

          You were lucky to have a punching service. I had to punch my own cards in my first job!

          Still had to use coding forms, because there was one punch machine shared between four programmers and two Systems Analysts (whatever happened to that job role?), and we weren't allowed to write the program while we were at the card punch.

    3. Chika

      Re: Duh

      Actually I saw this coming a long time ago. Consider that I grew up, technologically speaking, in the days of the 8-bit system when coding was all there was. As systems became more complex and big business took over at the reigns there was a lot less interest in developing machines that could be easily used for the teaching of coding, let alone anything else. In the UK, the biggest change happened when schools and colleges started to exchange machines such as the various Acorns for PCs, mostly advised by people with vested interests or no real knowledge of what a computer was used for in a classroom.

      As soon as the Raspberry Pi came out, it was quite obvious that it would be a boon to educators that wanted to teach a subject that, over the preceding years, had been increasingly neglected and to students that wanted to learn but at best could only turn to relics of that past age if they could turn to anything at all. An exploding market like that is like a honeypot to corporate bees like Microsoft or Apple, not to mention the multitude of people building workalikes in the hope that they could be the next big thing whilst failing to innovate anything of their own.

      Now I could put Apple to one side as they do have some sort of educational heritage but I question whether Apple now is the same as Apple back then when machines like the Apple II were big in schools. Microsoft, however, hasn't changed much in that the majority of what they do is focussed more on the making of money now rather than making a future that could turn them a tidy profit in future years, and I think that Apple has gone down the same road, particularly since Jobs passed on.

      While I agree that computers are not meant to be used solely for the teaching of coding, they should be all round general use systems that can be used for teaching many different things, an area where the PC has always been poor and mostly because the people behind it aren't really interested in making a system that could be used in that way. Yet again we see the corporate mentality at work.

    4. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: Duh

      "As you can see, it can be a skill applicable to more than just writing software." - The key to being a good to great programmer is not specific programming skills (those are easily learned) but logical problem solving. Problem solving involves knowing how to ask questions, how to interpret the answers, some trial and error to learn more about the problem until one understands the problem and its solution. None of this requires specific coding or computer skills.

      What kids should be taught is how to solve the problem, develop a solution, and then describe the problem and solution both verbally and mathematically showing how the solution logically solves the problem. One old school programming techniques was "pseudo-code" which describe the solution in a format that looked like a program but did not follow any specific language syntax.

      1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

        Re: Duh

        Wider than that, actually. Learning how to approach and solve puzzles of all kinds. Which is, of course, dangerous to any and all established orders.

    5. Chris King Silver badge

      Re: Duh

      "You don't need Microsoft and Apple to start to teach coding".

      You do if you're too cheap to fund the programme properly and need "sponsors" to pay for stuff. Remember, this is a photo-opportunity for a minister (or two) and the companies involved, if some spotty little oik actually manages to learn something then that's a bonus.

      "You need a teacher capable of explaining what a problem is, how to get from A to B, and how to break that into clearly defined steps. Then, and only then, should one think of touching a computer".

      Exactly. But the teachers are also being taught to code in the same way in short workshops, if they're being taught at all. A couple of sessions on the basics of taking a problem and breaking it down into steps wouldn't go amiss - they know how to do this in the analog world (think about putting together lesson plans to meet curriculum objectives) but some people need more help than others taking the same steps before writing code.

    6. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Duh

      Khan Academy does it better than anyone and it's free.

      Google it.

      I'm teaching myself SQL form there. Hand coded SQL. I'm learning front end SQL from Libre Base, the database module of Libre Office. You have to search for it, but there is a free tutorial for it.

      There are more and more quality teaching software, but the old institutions are not keeping pace. As someone said, we live in a 21st century world of science and technology and large population but are still using 17th century government to manage it and it is not scaling up.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As a Dad

    I dont think rationing time is necessary as I was never rationed time on computers when I was a kid and the result is im now a competent IT guy with over 20 years of hands on experience (even though im only 33).

    However, I do think it is important to ration the software kids have access to and have faith in their curiosity.

    I didnt have access to games in the same way kids do now. My primary source of games was cover disks and competitions.

    My parents very rarely bought games for me. Usually only at Christmas.

    The rest of the time I had to make do with shareware releases.

    The motivation certainly wasnt to save money as my dad used to bring me piles of hardware to mess about with. Some of it I now know must have been shockingly expensive.

    Anyway, being starved of full versions of stuff I was forced to hack the hell out everything to build my own levels, content and extract everything.

    Doom comes to mind here and various LucasArts games.

    One of the earliest hacks I pulled off was extracting The Gone Jackals soundtrack out of the resource files from Full Throttle. I wanted that CD so badly but I couldnt find it in the UK. It was so long ago I cant actually remember how I did it but im sure I still use that mindset. All I can recall is that itntook me weeks and I had to slog it out because...no internet.

    Everytime someone sends me a dodgy attachment to analyse. I get the same excited feeling.

    I still use those ripped audio files today (even though I have since bought the actual Bone to Pick album, which still kicks ass). Oddly the quality of the files from FT are higher quality than the genuine CD.

    The point im trying to make here is spooning the concepts to the kids is not the same as forcing them to figure it out for themselves.

    Whilst I think the current push to get kids interested in tech is noble, I think they're going about it in the wrong way.

    An hour of minecraft is not the same as our entire evenings spent pissing around in QBasic.

    The excitement in tech isnt in the end result, its in the process of discovery and that is how things stick in your mind.

    Reverse engineering is something kids need to be encouraged to do. Pull stuff apart and figure out how it works fits into an average kids mentality. Thats why toddlers put biscuits and raisins in everything.

    Playing a game is fun but ripping it apart is way cooler.

    Hack the Planet!

    1. sorry, what?
      Meh

      Re: As a Dad

      I whole-heartedly agree that it is more important to limit the types of software. Limiting time is also important.

      I've got kids and they would stay glued to their digital devices to the detriment of their health if they could. And by that I mean "couch potato syndrome".

      I agree again that the process of discovery (and indeed the learning through failure) is, bizarrely, really fun.

      For me, rather than rely on shareware games on the whole, and certainly not using magazine cover disks (I couldn't afford the mags they came with), I spent my time leaning how to write games and utilities for myself using BBC Basic and 6502 assembler.

      To me code is code - statements that control logic and implement algorithms/behaviour. HTML and CSS is not code, it's content and layout. Minecraft is not code, it's a game (though the redstone mechanisms that can be created within it are kind of cool virtual engineering).

      I think that today's programming learning environments are too far removed from the fundamental principles of how computers work. Learning on a machine with a rather basic OS and diving down to the processor and hardware level really gives you a better insight into these workings and therefore removes lots of the mystery ("I don't understand how UI programming works with all these callbacks" a colleague once said, because he couldn't "see" the layers below).

      Also, having limited resources makes you, as a programmer, more aware of the need to structure code well and consider things like memory footprint and performance.

      Let's bring back small and limited machines to teach our kids on, not PCs. (Yeah, things like the Raspberry Pi are sort of in that direction, but I thought it worth making the point.)

    2. d3vy Silver badge

      Re: As a Dad

      "I dont think rationing time is necessary as I was never rationed time on computers when I was a kid and the result is im now a competent IT guy with over 20 years of hands on experience (even though im only 33)"

      Spot on, I often get told my kids are spending too much time online or messing with their laptops... I sometimes even think myself that they should get out more. Then I remember my childhood waiting for the c64 to load games and writing really simple basic programs... I think I turned out ok, I'm earning a decent amount in a job that I love because it's just an extension of my lifelong hobby... My kids can spend as much time as they want messing with computers.

    3. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: As a Dad

      "I dont think rationing time is necessary as I was never rationed time on computers when I was a kid and the result is im now a competent IT guy with over 20 years of hands on experience (even though im only 33).

      However, I do think it is important to ration the software kids have access to and have faith in their curiosity.

      I didnt have access to games in the same way kids do now. My primary source of games was cover disks and competitions."

      I agree that it isn't necessary, but only because I don't think there's much in common between people who played a lot of games when they were children. Ignoring the fact that the plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data', of the people I know who played a lot of games when they were a child, we have

      One STEM professor (me);

      One junior civil servant office worker;

      One former bricklayer;

      One who works in a logistics company;

      One who was murdered in a gang feud with a brother in jail.

      So a bit of a mixed bag, really.

  6. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Flame

    "drain the swamp"

    Minecraft (desktop versions) has a scripting language so I'm willing to believe that it could be used to hit the sweet spot between coding and getting a fairly-immediate non-boring output which can get children interested or at the very least can be used to teach logic, much like the Pi.

    And the fact that an education "czar" has resorted to that phrase indicates to me that he's one to add to the ever-increasing list of twatdanglers politicising education.

    Did we have politicians stomping on Logo and Granny's Garden in the early 80's? No. Did this bunch of odd stuff go on to build an industry in the UK? Yes. If Minecraft works, use it. If it doesn't, don't. That's for the teachers to decide, not a politician wading in and dismissing it out of hand.

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: "drain the swamp"

      However anything NOT cross platform, or available ONLY on Mac or Win10 etc is Evil.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        Re: "drain the swamp"

        All the kids are already playing Minecraft all the fucking time on their fucking tablets.

        Drain the fucking swamp I say.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "drain the swamp"

      scripting language? How things change, in the good old days expansions were written in cold hard java, I think there was computercraft which modded in terminals that could be coded in lua. That was a cool mod.

      My secondary school IT education was just learning to use a word processor, for 3 years, then I dropped IT.

    3. Bogle

      Re: "drain the swamp"

      Fact checking: He's not a politician, he's a teacher [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-33150562] and he doesn't like the term "tsar" any more than you do.

      That said, his comment doesn't appear to fit with his remit of offering training to teachers in managing the behaviour of their pupils.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "drain the swamp"

        can we get el reg burnt to the ground for fake news? Seems to be the thing atm

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here you go kids.

    If you buy an os for $50k and then license it to IBM cheaper than the alternative while stealing your rivals API then you can become a billionaire.

    Do

    Upgrade operating system

    Make a mess of it a couple of times (Windows ME and Vista)

    Get it right (Win7)

    Force upgrades to a version that is awful (Win10)

    Loop until everyone uses Linux

    I like watching Bill talk about programming because he really knows what he's talking about, my 640k memory is all I need.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Child labor?

    This badly smells that Microsoft exploits kids for QA and testing their algorithms and SW for use with people whose IT knowledge is not significantly higher than those kid.

    To bad that I think this way, but corporations hardly do any good for society well being; if they do not need free labor.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Child labor?

      Krillitane oil.

      1. Chris King Silver badge

        Re: Child labor?

        "Krillitane oil".

        You are the Doctor, and I claim my free Tin Dog.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Child labor? @Chris King

          It was really exciting to see Sarah Jane return to Dr Who in this story.

          Elizabeth Sladen, RIP.

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