back to article Schoolkids learn coding at GCSE level in curriculum trial

Teenagers could be taught to write their own software programs at GCSE as part of a major overhaul of the UK schools' IT curriculum. The new approach is being trialled with 100 students in a two-term experiment that will be rolled out across the UK if it proves successful. Launching the “Behind the Screen” scheme, science …

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L.B
Meh

I am quite surprised by the number who say they did any programming at school in the 70s & 80s.

Until I got my first full time job as a trainee computer operator back in January 1982 (about 7 months after leaving school, never bothered with that university thing) I had never even seen a computer, apart from those depicted in TV/Films.

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Pint

In the early 70s it required your school to have links with a local university or large college which by then would have its own minicomputers in various departments (including CompSci of course) and also have either a mainframe or access to one shared between several institutions.

Of course this was long before any idea of a national curriculum - an enthusiastic teacher with the ear of the headmaster could get stuff done with zero form filling ! Oceanography was another subject I remember being added to the GCE list around that time, and Astronomy at O level.

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Anonymous Coward

Not sure what happened.

I've been writing programs since I was 5 on the old speccy in basic, and for some reason was never allowed near a computer in first or middle school. My dad always claims my first words were 'Load "" '.

I had to choose my GCSE subjects in '96. There was no option at all for an IT GCSE otherwise I would have dropped Drama or other such nonsense to do it. I seem to remember they were brought back in '99. The bastards.

This was a massive blow to me as I had successfully garnered control over most of the Acorn A3000 network (MPE rabbit for those who want admin access to a long dead system), I had managed to bypass most of their "new" Windows '95 networks security and I was generally a big PITA to Sys admins. (Once had a race with the sys admin at high school, how much of _his_ porn could I print to the network printer before he locked me out the system? No, really. Most fun 15 mins of my school career, sold the pictures too!). I wanted to learn, but there was no IT course at school for me.

After leaving school with practically nothing, the only option I had was to do a GNVQ in IT. This was bullshit to be honest. I thought it was going to be about programming, hardware and cool stuff. What we ended up doing was lotus 1-2-3 and changing the config.sys files. Oh and learning how to plug in a mouse. Big wow.

It was only when I did an A level in computing that I really managed to get anywhere. It was all very interesting, but nothing, in my mind, of any value. I taught myself more in those 2 years than the lecturer did. I did find out, through some lax FTP server security, he was having an affair with a member of staff at another college though, and found the College IT budget info. Which was nice. Why you would put email backups on an FTP server I have no idea. I also managed to troll the teachers message board on the LAN website, long before the phrase Troll ever existed. I knew I'd get in trouble, so I left a proxy written in VB6 on a library machine, waited for some poor sap to login, then logged into the machine opposite them to hop past the web login through their machine. By the time the admins turned up I was long gone.

This leads me to suspect that IT courses in this country leave a lot to be desired, but we have to have the enthusiastic knowledgeable teaching staff to go with it. Sort the infrastructure out first, then we can do the work. Engage the kids, show them what computers can do.

What I'm trying to say with all these stories is that I had a natural feeling and gift for IT, and there was nowhere for it to go. There was also no helping hand to guide me. No one was interested that I could do this stuff. (Well the admins were but that's different).

Before anyone downvotes me, yes I was a complete arsehole of a child. I'll hold my hands up to that. But there was no way for me to better channel my interest in the subject. Not an excuse, but if it was actually channelled positively, where would I be now?

I'm probably not the only one with stories like this either.

As Anon (as I can be) for blatantly obvious reasons.

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The only thing missing from this story

is the part where you brought a Barbie doll to life.

I really do hope that an aptitude with computers is not something that would go overlooked, in this day and age.

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Did my A-levels in 95/96(ish),

only took A/s Computers, so learnt about database design and spreadsheets (boooooring) whilst the A-level students got to learn PASCAL, or somesuch.

Bad decision on my part, but I was 16 at the time (and had just given up trying to teach myself AMOS). Whoever decided to drop "proper" IT from the curriculum, deserves a good shoeing.

Still not looking forward to doing battle with my own kids for control of our home network, though!

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Megaphone

More than programming required

While this is a huge and welcome step, students also need to learn about other things such operating systems and IT security.

Too few people can only use the applications on their PC (well some of them anyway) and have no idea about the operating environment - creating their own folder structure, setting up backups, scanning in documents, dealing with security issues, reinstalling the operating system.

What virtualisation (plenty of free tools to play with). Virtualisation is very much mainstream now in the business world, but I'm not aware of it being covered in schools at all.

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When did they stop teaching programming at GCSE?

I didn't even realise that they didn't teach programming at GCSE level any more. I remember (way back in 1990) doing GCSE Computer Studies, part of the coursework was writing our own program in BASIC on a BBC Master.

Which of course came after first learning the basics of getting the turtle to move around the screen and draw things using LOGO.

And who remembers how to do 2's Compliment subtraction

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You might not like it

But why not teach them Javascript with HTML/CSS

This means that they do not have to learn any of the clunky 'windows' GUI concepts.

They can just focus on logic and printing things to the 'screen'. They can then make things funky with HTML/CSS.

They don't need any clever environment, no need for a server to run it on, just code single pages.

Bonus is that most computers come with a browser and a basic editor, so the cost of entry is zero.

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Anonymous Coward

About time...

Back in the 80's I did my 'O' Level computer studies project in 6502 machine code.

The teacher couldn't even read it.

I was a precocious little sod.

These days I continually bump into degree holding youngsters who look at me with some kind of suspicion when I open a command prompt up and do something magical like a use wildcards on a move command.

*rolls eyes*

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Anonymous Coward

Forget teaching programming at school

It's a nice idea, but the reality will be a Government syllabus that awards an A* for anyone who can make the computer display "Hello World!". If you can't work it out and stick a post-it note on the screen with 'Hello World!' scribbled in biro, you'll still get a C. If you shout "Hello World!" through an old kitchen towel tube aimed at the screen and then claim the sound bounced off it, thus technically meaning your teacher received "Hello World!" from the computer screen, you might still actually get an E.

There was a time - THIRTY YEARS AGO - when every kid at school could go into Dixons and enter a bit of Basic to flood the screen with obscenities ("20: goto 10"). Boffins would be able to add a few extra lines to make it beep annoyingly and disable the keyboard, forcing frustrated sales assistants to clamber behind the shelves to switch it off at the mains. Today, the average school kid couldn't do anything like that to a display PC in Currys, despite being in an age of USB sticks which could allow any 13-year-old to get a local web page onto a PC and display actual porn to all the customers. All my generation could do at 13 was make "Brian Jenkins is a spack! And so is his mum!" appear all down a green 12" CRT. We've gone backwards. Backwards!

Kids don't want to program computers, they just want to listen to their iPods and daaaaance to dub step in their own happy world.

And if you are going to teach programming, it should probably become part of maths again at that level. In my experience, people who can't do maths can't do basic Javascript, it just makes their brains hurt. So it would probably be a good idea to let the Maths-6 kids spend two years completing 'Hello World' whilst the Maths-1 kids do some simple web apps or maybe even compile a little Java. Either way, those destined to become programmers are going to find their own way whatever happens.

It's the same as having general 'science' lessons for the kids who don't need to understand physics, chemistry and biology are separate sciences, with even more specialist divisions within.

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Started A-Level computing in 2003

And we done Visual basic with a bit of assembly language, alot of access databases and tonnes of binary/hexidecimal. Thrown in amongst the standard hardware and networking stuff.

It was a huge step up from the gcse ICT which taught us how to open word/excel and print a webpage.

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Defiantly a step in the right direction.

I wish they had taught me programming at GCSE, instead of hours of formatting word:(

It my bring a whole new generation of script kiddy's to the table but its defiantly better!

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And you *definitely* should have learnt proper English before touching a computer.

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OK, so, who are they going to get to teach this?

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Go

O level in Computer Studies

When I was at school in 1973 we all had to do a year of Computer Studies and then we could opt to continue to do in O-level (GCSE you would call it now, but as a written exam). At 11 we were taught a pseudo assembler called CESIL (Computer Education in Schools Instruction Language) and at 12 we started to program in BASIC. All this was done on coding forms that were sent off to the local polytechnic for punching and batch processing and we got the results back a week later. At 13 we were introduced to timesharing systems and at 14 we got FORTRAN and GINO-F (Graphical packages for plotted Input and Output).

Why they stopped doing these courses I do not know, but computer education in schools has a long history and is certainly not a new initiative.

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Happy

Golly

I remember doing CESIL for 'O'-level computer science on a PDP-11 at the local FE college. We had to catch the bus from school to go to the college for lessons as we only had 2 BBC Micros, a Spectrum and a 380Z at school. I also remember writing a stock control system in BASIC for my 'O'-level too. Lots of fun using a line editor on a VT-52 terminal.

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KenB

So everyone here believes that the whole world should know some programming just because they are likely to use a computer? On the same logic the whole world should know something about the design & maintenance of every commodity item - cars, televisions, etc.

If you go back far enough (senile cackle) you only learned to program after university. It worked very well and there were a lot of programmers about in the '60s.

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Silver badge

@KenB

No not the whole world, but anyone who chooses to do the ICT curriculum should be taught programming, just as those who choose to do "Design Technology" or whatever metalwork's modern equivalent is, should be taught how to do basic car maintenance, those that choose physics can be taught how televisions work and those that choose "Domestic Science" should learn how to cook.

It seems that modern school education doesn't teach any practical skills like this.

Maybe this is why this country has lost the innovative, inventive lead in technology that it used to have.

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Anonymous Coward

@What went wrong?

I agree, I started aged 16 in 1981, in the back of the class with our new school computer after my O levels, while our teacher taught 4th years, and the 5th years had left early.

I too surged, went from RMS 380Z basic, and was writing Z80 by the end of term. I suffered withdrawal symptoms over the summer hols, and then I was writing CPM system code at my new sixth form six weeks later with another one.

Where did it all go wrong? I suspect it went wrong because government isn't interested in do-ers.

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Unhappy

Or could it be because the Government of whatever colour is full of useless arty-farty muppets who're only interested in furthering their own advancement by the production of much hot air and interfering in the name of 'change' whether that 'change' is needed or not. Either that or interfering based on the back-handers of interested third parties with their own agenda.

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Childcatcher

I was writing code on the wall of my cave when short trousers hadn't even been invented etc etc

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Flame

Fabulous initiative

"In the 1980s the BBC not only broadcast programming for kids about coding, but (in partnership with Acorn) shipped over a million BBC Micro computers into homes and schools. That was a fabulous initiative, but it's long gone."

Because the government of the day decided to get into bed with Microsoft and turn its back on the British computer industry. The BBC Micro was designed to be programmed with BBC Basic (including assembler capability) built in. By contrast IBM PCs and clones were a nightmare.

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You'll like this one...

I left school at age 16 in 1990 to take a BTEC ND in Computing at the local college. The careers teacher at my school informed me and my best friend (who also left), that "there's no future in software".

Said teacher went to the same school, did their teaching qualification, then returned to the same school and gave careers advice. Go figure.

Last I heard, he was in charge of IT there. Still, I'm sure everything that he uses was developed before 1990... (eh, Jim...?)

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Stop

Teachers

So where are they going to get the teachers for all this. Next we'll be complaining that the 'those that can't, teach' syndrome will be mean they're just learning crap.

So any volunteers to the job properly then? .......

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Sounds like

They are going to go back to teaching the things I was taught in my Information Systems GCSE 16-17 years ago...

Not exactly a lot of practical programming in it, but all the theory behind it, data structures, algorithms, interface theory, doing sorting and searching algorithms, trees & linked lists, hashing etc. It was pretty basic stuff to be honest but at least, beyond the first couple of months, it didn't focus on the basic use of applications. Although it was justified back then as these were Archimedes computers, and no-one really had a pc at home.

We even did the interview trick of breaking down the tasks involved in making a cup of tea.

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Anonymous Coward

Google

Nellie the computer from 1969, Proper computing, disk oil temperatures and a scary binary count.

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It's a start the right direction

What I hope is they teach programming mentality and parrelels with other situations. Like planning ahead, optimising resources and other life leasons. Also it needs to be rewarding and in give quick rewards so some form of robotic programming even something like bigtrack has alot to teach even elementary school children and that is programming. Programming is a mindset and not some fixated single computer language.

Still, its a start in the right direction and allows me to relive the 80's again :).

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Happy

Good but ideally....

Step in the right direction but why just trial it in such few schools? What's going to determine the success of the trial? if they get a job in 10 years? it needs to be done much more urgently and spread out as wide as possible.

From 3rd grade onwards kids should be able to make anything with constructor kits/ lego technic /meccano whatever other brand exists. By 6-7 grade they should then be upgrading to mindstorm or other simple programmable units then from 8-9-10-11 they should be full on in arduino board/ embedded programming/ prototyping and the like.

Also curriculum should look to actually making/augmenting open source software for the use of their own school as an actual project. eventually they'll have best of class software at Zero cost to them and they get full work experience. Get the whole school in a fully automated process to get it's running costs down.

Then you get a generation of robot builders and what not - THEN you can compete against any low cost labour country on the planet - and all production comes back to the UK.

That's what needs to be done... Germany is pretty much doing it already I think - there's so many robotics stuff going around there in their schools with various constructor kits etc...

Also shops should be banned from selling any single use toys - everyone should just be able to make their own - want a toy - make the tool to make it first !!! :-)

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Anonymous Coward

Learning coding

The reality is that this will never be main stream. The problem is I have done GCSE ICT, A-level ICT and now a BTEC National Diploma extended in IT practitioner 2nd year and there is a serious lack of qualified teachers in this field. Many of the teachers have little or no understanding especially when I am being taught to program in VB.Net. The reality is that everyone wants to be a computer scientist without realising that there needs to be a greater focus on the conceptual side of computing i.e. matrices, algorithims etc. Britain is seriously mistaken into thinking that it is good to encourage children to become programmers. The reality for me now is that programming is mostly out-sourced as you can get better talent cheaper i.e. outsourcing. An the IT employers of this country want people working in IT to have multiple discipline skills such as Business, interpersonal etc. The type of programmers we need are not ones that learn a little bit about procedural language but rather integrate the programming side into subjects like Maths or Physics, Creating programmers with advanced knowledge comes both from independent learning and problem solving. The most these kids will probably do in reality a little bit of VB.NET or Visual Basic in 60% coursework. If you want good programmers get teachers who know their stuff and tell students to get set text books and do it yourself. Furthermore, what about an emphasis on the other branches of computing such as Cisco networks etc. Programming is just one part of computing as a field. No wonder why Government IT projects are such an epic fail.

From your UK student who has now given up the idea of bothering to do Computer Science at University.

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FAIL

Educational standards

Unfortunately, there are quite a lot of things that should be taught to kids before we get to anything as complicated as writing computer code.

I was siphoning some homebrew the other day and my daughter took a great interest because she'd never seen a siphon working before. I had to explain to her how it worked.

She's only got a masters degree in Earth Sciences, poor girl, so you can't expect her to know about these simple things.

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I did A level Computing (AQA) in 2001/2002 and we did a little bit of assembler, some pascal and some prolog stuff. We were taught VB for doing the projects (first year the exam board gave us a problem to solve, second year we had to find our own problem). Although the school dropped this course after I finished as there weren't enough people interested in it and of those who were only a few were intelligent enough to cope with it.

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Linux

O Level Computer Science

My O Level Computer Science project included a load of 6502 assembler to do graphics work on a Commodore 64 back in 1995/1996. I ended up as a Linux kernel bit twiddler. Nowadays kids have no notion of how to programme a computer and hence it leaves out IT industry short of many good quality low level engineers. Bring back challenging qualifications!

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I went to a very old-fashioned grammar school in the 1970s -- everyone did Latin for the first two years, and Ancient Greek was offered at O level.

Everyone did SMP maths, and the SMP maths curriculum at the time included a chapter on programming -- strictly as a paper exercise, for this was before the days of Acorns and Superbrains and Spectra. In the O level year, 1976 for me, everyone did a General Studies certificate which included a class on computer programming, done in Algol-60 (with the stropped punctuation) on coding forms. The nice people at CIBA-Geigy then let the school borrow some of their mainframe time, and our programs were punched on to card-decks, returned to us for dry checking, and, if they seemed OK, eventually run. I still have the card deck for my first executed program lying around somewhere.

Everyone had to do this -- even the people doing Latin and Greek, who usually went on to be barristers.

Myself, I date the Great Competence Evaporation to about 1984, but people who can remember times before then will also recall that happy time when this country could quietly do a few useful things without making a howling pig's breakfast of them.

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Coat

Optional

To all those who have just discovered that they don't teach programming anymore.

They don't teach

English Language

English Literature

Maths

Physics

Chemistry

Biology

either

They show politicised science via video. No experiments; no basics; no theory of science. Questions asking about what you think is important; or what somebody thinks is the correct answer to a political question.

They think maths is arithmetic; and do obscene things to make division simple ('long division' is apparently conceptually way too difficult to do)

English Lit is a series of disconnected simplified passages from 'significant' (political term) 'modern' books

English Language - would appear to be English as a 2nd or 3rd pigdin language; no grammar; and the use of a full stop and capitalization is considered to be advanced; and clever (and therefore to be sneered at).;

And having given up French ('cos I'm useless at languages) before O levels; my French is still seriously better than either of my kids GCSE passes.

In short; the modern school system is an absolute disgrace.

(O levels 1970; A levels 1972)

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UK?

By "UK" I assume they mean "England and Wales"? Scotland are already re-writing the Computing and Information Systems syllabi - and in fact combining the two streams to offer pupils an even narrower range of IT-related courses.

Incidentally, games development - using the aforementioned Scratch - is fairly commonplace in S1/S2 (first two years of secondary) up here, and programming is taught as part of the Standard Grade and Intermediate 2 qualifications (both GCSE equivalent courses, though both to be replaced in the next couple of years).

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Anonymous Coward

The trouble is...

...where do you get the teachers to teach the kids proper computer science and proper programming skills ? The education system doesn't pay well enough to attract someone with real industry experience so there's no source of teachers there. Unless, of course, they get retired people to teach it.

Also with kids having only been taught crap over recent years, where do you get young teachers with the relevant skills to teach anything other than Word and Excel ?

To really fix CS/IT teaching the government need to raise salaries in teaching enough to attract industry experienced people and also to pay them the going wage while they are doing their teacher training. They'd also have to have a decent curriculum prepared in advance so these experienced people would want to teach it and they'd have to have decent equipment/labs available in the schools.

As someone who has recently been recruiting people to work in my development team I need people who can assimilate any given programming language quickly, can install and configure various operating systems, understand and configure networks, understand low-level bits/bytes etc and have a full, rounded experience of IT in general. Its very hard to get all these skills any more. I came out of University with all of them back in the late 80s but these days all you get is people who can code in Java and know nothing else. This means we always end up recruiting older people who got taught correctly all those years ago or foreign people who still get taught properly.

The whole CS / IT education system from school all the way up to Uni needs fixing.

If I could keep my current standard of living I'd leave industry to teach proper computer science but there's no chance of that right now.

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Stop

Stop and think for a minute...

Who's going to teach this then? Anyone who's vaguely competent at programming probably isn't going to be working as a teacher... So students will be taught by dullards who have no real-world experience of programming and this will therefore soon degrade into copying examples from a book with no explanation of how/why they work. The reason why the GCSE curriculum is so application focused at the moment is because this is all your standard IT teacher (lower 2nd degree in Comp Sci if you're very very lucky) is capable of.

School group sizes are roughly 25 pupils of mixed ability, the majority of this group will struggle to write fluently in English let alone something as totally abstract as Visual Basic. Furthermore a significant proportion of the group will be Polish/Lithuanian/Romanian which will make this even more difficult. At least two members of each group will have substantial behavioural problems and will need constant supervision to make sure they don't try to self-harm/masturbate/fight/start fires during the lesson.

Schools get Microsoft software for a massively reduced rate so will all choose to use either Visual Studio or something like Small Basic. Not necessarily a bad thing but there will certainly be no Java.

Technical support in schools is very poor (pay peanuts principle in effect) so when the software/hardware fails it will not be fixed until the end of the school year and students will have to share computers.

To me this sounds like a very good idea that just hasn't been thought through... I'd love nothing more than for students to be taught programming and computer hardware as part of the GCSE curriculum but the simple facts are that many of them still don't have an adequate grasp of basic maths or English by this stage..

It's also quite clear that those proposing this grand idea and the majority of people commenting here (teach them to program in assembly language etc.) really have absolutely no idea of just how bad the UK education system is....

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Anonymous Coward

Many missing the point?

"there are quite a lot of things that should be taught to kids before we get to anything as complicated as writing computer code."

and

"Programming is a mindset and not some fixated single computer language."

Amen to both of those, but a big wet raspberry to those who think learning programming is about language A vs language B.

It's about being able to read and understand vague descriptions and ask relevant questions to clarify.

It's about being able to think logically and be numerate.

It's about understanding the importance of correct language vs incorrect language ("should of" rather than "should have", etc).

It's about being able to think "what if" e.g. what if the user input is unexpected format, what if the network fails part way through...

It's about being able to work out how you check whether what you've built will actually work.

Most of these aren't particularly IT skills. But they are "thinking straight" skills, often lacking even amongst so called programmers.

All of these are essential pre-requisites to any serious design+programming project, and to overlook them is to build on sand rather than rock. Which could be part of the reason why so many software projects are not just massively overbudget but fail completely.

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FAIL

I remember GCSE "IT" class

I did GCSE IT in 1996, and they basically taught us how to use wordperfect for windows, that was it... I understand modern GCSE is no better, or perhaps even worse.

I learned more in the after school "computer club" than in actual classes, where the teacher (the same guy) was free to teach what he wanted.

While teaching basic programming is useful, they have to do it properly... They need to teach logical constructs and general ideas, rather than getting bogged down in the specifics of one particular language.

Similarly while it's useful to teach students stuff like word processing, it would be far better to teach than the general concepts rather than the specifics of one particular application. You never know what applications, and what versions thereof students will end up using once they leave school so the more exposure to different programs they've had the better. Our wordperfect and quattro pro classes were all for nothing, i've not seen a single company using this software since leaving school.

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This is a good thing

Not that any particular syntax/language is going to be of any relevence by the time they come to use it a few years later, but the sheer fact that computers become slaves not masters is what's most important. Knowing a computer can bend to your whim as opposed to forcing you to comply with its ways is so empowering, and provides the crucial link between hardware and applications.

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Anonymous Coward

"everyone did Latin for the first two years"

Beginner's Latin is actually great for this kind of thing, as well as for other modern European languages.

Strict and (largely) consistent and formalisable/analysable grammar, just like most programming languages.

Need to understand the difference between subject, and verb, and object, just like in programming.

Need to be able to construct a grammatically correct sentence, unlike in Powerpoint, but just like in a programming language.

Etc.

[grammar errors above may or may not be intentional]

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In my opinion kids brains are being allowed to atrophy at a time when they should be most active in the learning cycle. Part of this atrophying process, and bear in mind that this is my opinion, is through the proliferation of non-learning and anti-social games. I think that kids would find it far more interesting and exciting to make computers do things - and of course that means that you have a far larger community of school-leavers capable of joining application development teams when they leave school, even if they are not necessarily able to go to a university or tertiary college for whatever reason. And that is important. The UK has a rich history in the IT world - it would be very good if that could be used as a catalyst for even greater things.

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2 years to code a c++ notepad or forum in php is more work then making a stool in DT

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Windows

Microcode, anyone?

Had to understand that when I was a kid (OK, 21), to repair Nicolet 440 series spectrum analysers. 44-bit word. Never forget in the paper copy of the program, the bit that started the 'butterfly' bit of the FFT started with the comment "Zeroth Iteration". Wish I had kept a copy, but the paper copy would've filled a small suitcase.

Never was taught it, or anything like it at school, just had to use a bit of the old grey matter.

Just recently (re)found a program I wrote for the INS8060 (SC/MP) to decode and display the time from Rugby MSF. Wrote it over 30 years ago in assembler. Paper version. In pencil. When I looked, I couldn't believe I wrote such compact code...220 bytes. Again, self-taught.

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Anonymous Coward

i did it

I did programming at school.....BBC Basic - at home I learnt Spectrum basic - close but very different beast. i started z80 assembler too.

the kids these days think that things 'just work' and seem to think little of how

the interface they are using actually comes about.

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Anonymous Coward

Wont someone think of the precious little snowflakes

But , But You mean I have to understand what happens instead of just pressing the shinny buttons? Only geeks or nerds do that you stupid or something . I want my A* for turning up now!

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I'm TEACHING GCSE computing at school

In My school we're running the OCR GCSE in Computing.You can choose your language of choice - I'm doing C# because we get visual studio express for free.

RDBMS, networks, security, algorithm development and programming, fetch-execute cycle, binary maths... it's all there.

what I'm miffed about - no-one has mentioned all the schools running this GCSE. There are 3 in oxfordshire - so it's NOT just a 2 term trial, or whatever was mentioned in the article.

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Anonymous Coward

"using Visual Studio Express, because it's free"

gcc and Eclipse are also free, and you can use them on a lot more development systems and develop for a lot more targets, not just on/for a Window box and whatever else MS choose to support on any given occasion (IA64? Now you see it, now you don't. Handheld PC? Now you see it, now you don't. MIPS/PPC/Alpha? Now you see it, now you don't.)

But using non-Microsoft software where Microsoft allege they have a comparable alternative will probably break some educational discount agreement your school has with Microsoft.

Be grateful there's no one with a clue on your board of governors.

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