back to article Australia should head-hunt Michael Gove

Over in Blighty, there’s an outbreak of sanity that puts at risk years of work by the computer industry to place itself at the centre of the education budget. If stories coming from the UK are accurate, the government has discovered that the IT sector’s vision for computers in schools amount to little more than an industry- …

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  1. Vic

    I'd advise caution...

    What Gove has proposed certainly looks interesting - but he's a politician. And a British politician, to boot.

    Expect lies and half-truths.

    If he delivers, things might be looking up. But I'm sure he'll be equivocating within the week :-(

    Vic.

  2. HollyHopDrive
    Megaphone

    Well I for one....

    ...hope that http://www.raspberrypi.org/ give these IT companies a bit of a bashing and get kids doing what I learnt to do when I was 8 or 9 years old, just messing about and learning and programming. Nobody ever taught me to program, I had to work it out (much to my fathers bemusement) from the manual and magazines. Now, clearly that isn't the best way to learn quickly, but its given me a mindset that I still have some 30 years on. 'just go do and work it out'

    Now, the next problem is that most teachers just don't give a shit about computers from a programming and how they work point of view. My wife (a teacher) doesn't understand why anybody needs to know binary, what good is that to anybody. While, yes, we don't use it every day to 'code', an understanding is required to some extent. Knowing how it works, makes programming make sense. (iykwim)

    So, how do we get this stuff taught in schools. Well, that is a good question, we need people from industry like myself who have the experience and the passion but I don't have the time to become a teacher, and they certainly aren't going to pay my considerably higher than teacher wages. Yet I do still have the passion I first had when I first got my hands on a ZX81, then VIC 20 and PSION brick that my dad used to borrow from work. And this raspberrypi has got me very very (slightly over) excited all again. I can't wait to show my 9 year old son it and get him into it.

    I hate to say I just think this is just a politician spouting hot hair. We've fucked up teaching IT certainly well before I left school in the late 80's. By the time I left, I was a more advanced programmer than the teacher (and he was reasonably good as i remember). My thirst (and to be fair, my abundance of free time compared to his) probably allowed me to be so, but this is a resource we should have been tapping into a good 20 years ago when we are best suited to learning. Is it too late? time will tell.

    My rant over, I'm off for a lie down.

    1. kissingthecarpet
      Thumb Up

      Raspberry Pi *is* exciting

      Its so cheap, it comes with your choice of Linux on an SD card. Visit the site. I'm so getting one with loaded with Debian. I get the impression from their website that they're sensibly steering clear of big(or any) corporate involvement, and retaining total control. Which is great, because you know what would happen once the big sponsors weigh in. Suddenly it costs £350 & it runs Windows ;-)

      1. LaeMing Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        I'm probably getting a TrimSlice for myself.

        I need a bit more oomph than the Pi can give me.

        But I will be be getting two dozen RaspberryPi for the classroom here. They give a bit more hands-in than the TrimSlice can give the students. Particularly with that GertBoard!

      2. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

        I agree

        And better yet, it need cost no more than its face value plus a short Ethernet cable. Even the schools' current PC and the thing it calls an OS remain useful because the RaspberryPi needs a display and keyboard, but thats easy: use the cable to connect the two machines together and run PuTTY on the PC. Job done.

        1. David Hicks
          Boffin

          Why run putty from another box?

          Just attach the display, keyboard and mouse to the Pi directly! It can drive an HD display, it's got USB and HDMI, job done.

          1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

            That implies you have a spare keyboard and display. I bet most schools don't have the industrial quantities of them that would be needed to equip a programming class. Using Ethernet cables lets the RaspberryPis share the peripherals already attached to a roomful of working PCs and will certainly cost much less than buying the dedicated ones needed for direct attachment.

            When I get hold of a RaspberryPi, I'm expecting to connect it to my local network, hide it in a corner somewhere and access it via ssh or telnet/Kermit. Apart from being able to access it from any other computer in the house, this will save both desk space and the cost of an extra keyboard and screen.

    2. Naughtyhorse

      the best way to learn

      errr... i think youll find it is the only way to learn.

      teaching kids to program?

      first youll have to teach them to think, can you imagine how expensive that would be, not to mention flying in the face of 30+ years of UK Govt. policy! - schools are there to train people to pass exams, and failing that a bung to the examining board will achieve the desired effect.

      i only came in here cos someone said that gove's head should be hunted....

      with hounds i hope :-)

    3. TonkaToys
      Thumb Up

      I'm confused...

      Did I accidentally write the above post under the name HollyHopDrive?

      Everything you've said is what happened to me (apart from the PSION).

      I hope we are going to see a radical shake up of the entire curriculum, starting with Computer Science and then moving onto the other sciences; and that this leads this country back into an era of innovation.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Reading the RPi site they have said that they had to send out the orders to the Far East, as importing components into the UK and building them here was way too expensive due to import tax. Fully built units coming in are not taxed.

      At a time when the UK economy needs a kick up the arse and we are taxing charities attempting to fall in line with the Gov's need to boost the UK electronics knowledge pool.

    5. launcap Silver badge
      FAIL

      re: Well I for one....

      "By the time I left, I was a more advanced programmer than the teacher (and he was reasonably good as i remember)"

      I got refused access to the A level computer studies on the basis that I hadn't done the O level.. When I pointed out that I'd been programming in Z80 assembler (hand-assembly - yay! Our Nascom 1 didn't come with an assember so we had to save up and buy one..) since the age of about 13 and understood more about programming than the A level syllabus required I was told that that wasn't the point..

      And this was in the mid-80's. So not much has really changed..

  3. Shane Sturrock
    Thumb Up

    Returning to the roots of computing

    Back in the late 70s and early 80s before the rise of the IBM PC and compatibles, schools taught pupils about computers. We learned Boolean algebra for crying out loud. The understanding of the principals of computers prepared us for an industry where you will succeed if you can self educate. Teaching students to use MS produces prepares them for a life of drudgery and servitude with little way out. Other countries would do well to model their computer literacy on what the UK is planning and get away from the idea that a computer is just an electronic typewriter or adding machine.

  4. kissingthecarpet
    Linux

    No, you can keep him

    I hardly think any of the "new" IT policies originated with a gimp like Gove. He is an absolutely appalling man. He should be head-hunted - literally. By real head-hunters - the sort with machetes.

    Of course, few to none of the teachers currently teaching "ICT" would be able to teach programming, and not many pupils will want to learn programming. The question, as always, is what do you teach those who are clustered around the middle , i.e. the vast majority.

    However, as long as we get away from the ICT= "learning to be an MS Office user" , anything is better than that. We've got a proud history of computing in the UK, but it got chucked out with a lot of other good stuff from the 60s & 70s.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We actually had access to cars for drivers ed. It's not an optional skill on this side of the pond.

  6. David 164

    Do not get to excited, he will not actually force schools to implement the new curriculum, and it will certainly not be ready by next year not in actually schools anyway, as that would go against his other policies.

    He does not reward schools that teach IT or ICT or whatever you want to call it well, as ICT or technologies subjects does not count towards the school league tables places, which meant that schools have cut these department budgets even further and invested that money into subjects that does count toward league table places, many of them were already waiver thing anyway, there are wood and electronic labs at my old school which goes unused because they do not have the teachers who can use the equipment or teach subjects or the money to hire them, they were thinking about converting them into normal classrooms. Some schools have few if any dedicated ICT teachers, the ICT classes are often taken by part timer who also do other subject such English or History.

    He also have not said where he is going to find all these programmers to teach kids how to programme according to his speech he has less than 9 months to find them, hire them and train them, 3 computer science graduates were trained as teachers last year, I am shit poor at maths but even I know that not enough teachers to cover a 1000+ schools.

    He also have not committed any new funds to help encourage computer science graduates to choose teaching as a career option, we already have shortages in this country and train them, to allow schools to hire them and even some new tools for them to work with, not everything is free, and why there is some great free teaching material on-line, there is little quality control, so some fund to developed course materials would be required, the last thing we want is kids being scared of by poorly written on-line articles or poorly organise sites.

    It sad where you hear about students who have produce Iphone apps failing or getting low grades because their IT teacher did not understand the programming language that use to build it or any programming language and the student had to teach him the basic Objective-C to get his low grade. and waste time commenting every line of code.

    1. Anomalous Cowturd
      Headmaster

      God help us all...

      If your grasp of the English language is indicative of modern British education standards.

      We're all doomed, DOOMED I tell you!

    2. frank ly
      Facepalm

      ...... waste time commenting every line of code

      Indeed. The less time it takes to produce code to be used by someone else, the better that code will be.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: ...... waste time commenting every line of code

        "Indeed. The less time it takes to produce code to be used by someone else, the better that code will be."

        Not sure if you're being sarcastic - as is the norm here - but commenting every line should only be necessarily with a language like Brainfuck.

    3. Lamont Cranston

      Sad but true.

      Schools have become exams factories, as they are monitored on the ability to get students to pass exams.

      Education, as a whole, needs a good shake up, but I don't think Gove is the man to do it.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Returning to how it was

    20 years ago I studied computer science at a UK school. Teaching about the insides of the machines and how they worked was commonplace once, before it was all scrapped to bring about shitty ICT courses.

  8. radioaktivty
    Devil

    Derailing the gravy train

    Sounds good, but I suspect it's an excuse not to continue to invest in computer hardware in schools rather than wanting any sort of meaningful change to the curriculum. Where will that leave our beloved educational IT suppliers? RM have retreated from international waters into an increasingly stagnant and shrinking pond here in blighty and who's going to buy poor old Lord Sugars Viglen POS's? Couldn't happen to nicer companies.

    1. So0bahth

      Yep, I love the idea that the corporate leeches might be kicked off the tax-payer's tit, but sadly it's not going to happen that way.

      If you read between the lines of Gove's announcements, you see talk about the 'contributions' that the big IT corporates will be making.

      I think it's near certain that anything that Microsoft and it's pushers (RM and just about every 'independent' education advisor) lose from the demise of ICT, will be recovered by curricula and resources devoted to teaching Microsoft-only programming languages, with Microsoft-only tool chains.

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge
      Devil

      That may be the reason for the entire bruhaha

      Errr... Did not Lord S*** support the losing party at the last election? That explains a lot...

  9. TheOtherHobbbes

    This just in

    from 1969:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/tomorrowsworld/8008.shtml

    1. Joe 3

      Wow...

      Even with all that checking and switching, Nellie still starts up faster than my mum's PC! To be fair though, it's been ages since it's oil was checked.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We'll throw in a few extras

    Like the rest of the cabinet. While granted, his latest appears to be a rare outbreak of common sense, Gove comes with so many caveats that he's probably comfortably outweighed the upside of his good idea with most of the rest of his short ministerial career. Not the least would be his enthusiasm for conducting government business in ways that appear to deliberately bypass scrutiny.

    You may find it cheaper and less damaging to the Australian education system simply to bribe your current minister to do the right thing.

  11. Nuno trancoso
    Coat

    Wow...

    I always thought i lived in a bassackwards backwater country, but seems we weren't the only ones to do the stupid CS move that followed the home/hobby computer>office computer stupidity. And while the "teaching Office is teaching nothing at all" isn't news, it's a whole different angle when politicians say it too...

    Also, the argument that "the majority isn't interested" is a fallacy. They aren't interested in letters and spreadsheets either, they just deal with what get's thrown at them. Difference is, teaching how to dis(assemble) stuff and read/write basic (no pun) code might just do the trick of planting the seed of "independent thought" into them.

    Then again, it's not in the gove's best interest to teach people how to think, is it...

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge
      Devil

      I wish they tought office

      Do they teach how to use styles, bibliography, macros, etc? Do they teach excel properly - with excel basic, functions, stats, etc? Do they teach access? Yes, indeed access - it is part of office after all and people should know when to stop being silly and drop excel for a more advanced tool.

      Do they teach the stuff that really distinguishes someone who knows how to use Office from the muppet that just clicks at random around the pretty ribbons? Do they teach the stuff that saves you 75%+ of your time when working with it? Do they teach the fundamentals which allow you to move to another platform in a jiffie?

      NO.

      So in fact they are not teaching office either. They are teaching font-turbation.

      1. phuzz Silver badge
        Mushroom

        If they didn't teach the basics (this is a mouse, this is the left button, this is the right button), then businesses would get new employees showing up with no idea how to use anything that doesn't send texts. Your suggestions are a little bit advanced for most people.

        And Access? Burn it with fire, it's the only way to be sure. I've never seen a sensible use of access in a business.

        1. Wesley Wakeman

          You may not have seen it but Access 2007/2010 can create a nice simple system for many users in a small business and trust me they do use it so it's still a useful skill to learn. If IT classes no longer teach Databases/Word/Excel who will? Word taught by English Teachers? Excel taught by Mathematics Teachers I very much doubt this, as an english teacher will not necessarily know enough about Word to give enough information in lessons to be useful in later life same goes for the Mathematics Teachers (but probably in the case of the mathematics teachers that excel isn't really needed in their lessons at all compared with a calculator and a lot of formulas). Adding ICT to the rest of the curriculum will probably mean a very small proportion of the school leavers will be able to use basic Office software in any benefical way for the company they work for without teaching them everything needed which would have been taught before the change. However I am a fan of having Computing in the school curriculum (Which has been around for sometime as a GCSE and A Level as well as the older BTEC qualifications). The best thing they can do is add ICT and/or Computing to the core subjects so it counts significantly to the league tables currently it is regarded as a second class citizen by many schools and this cannot be allowed to continue if they truely want us at the cutting edge of innovation. Time will tell.

      2. Lamont Cranston

        I learnt SuperCalc.

        My IT As Level was 100% futureproof.

      3. Wesley Wakeman

        Depends on the school but many do teach the basics including Macros, Functions, etc..

        Access is taught as well in most schools to give a pupil an understanding of basic relational database creation and why its necessary.

  12. eurisko
    FAIL

    Development of ICT programming strategy in schools

    I was in education and staff development training for 7 years and as annoying as Michael Gove can be he has hit the nail right on the head.

    Schools and colleges have concentrated their ICT curriculum on teaching the soft skills of teaching office based products which, unfortunately as the article states, is embedded with the product lifecycle.

    I was educated in secondary school as the BBC Micro was a part of the world of learning about computers and I learnt (mostly on my own time) how to work the machines and when I went to college the same ethos was adopted. There was no Word or Excel in the early/mid 80s we learnt how to tinker under the bonnet and how it works. This was lost in the 90s and 00s. I've seen the ICT syllabus and it's dire. It ticks one box and that's it. Yeah they know how to use a computer in a limited capacity and one that they cannot control unless it's with a gaming controller.

    A Smartboard doesn't a computer programmer make. Makes good use of their hands!

    Now they learn how to work a spreadsheet and a bit more but can they evidence that they have taught the Socratic method of learning to the students to allow them to continue to advance?

    They haven't for many years and some teachers are very poor as well. I've seen it and something needs to be done about it. So as much as I dislike Michael Gove he's right. No messing. Finally someone with some vision for ICT.

  13. Mike Green

    Need some programmer teachers before teaching programming...

    The trick here is getting the teachers. Like many have said, all the teachers I knew knew faff all about actually programming. I taught myself how to program both sets of the school's computers, without any help from the nominal teacher who just supervised the kids who could barely type. Anyone capable of programming is probably going to be lured away from school by industry/university wages. Maybe that's changing with all the outsourcing to India/China though.

    I'm no way against the idea, but there are some big hurdles to overcome.

    1. Dotter

      Programming Teachers

      Not only do they need to know what they're talking about, they need to be good at teaching it - something that seems to be lacking a lot of the time with people teaching that subject (though it is a hard one to teach).

  14. Nick Roberts
    FAIL

    Hmmmmm

    My daughter's currently at the point of choosing her GCSE options. There are two ICT (sic) options - one is "Business Studies" based and does indeed concentrate on the use of Office products - the other is all about, er, programming. Does Gove want to sweep this away, too? Or is this typical politics - make a fuss about putting something right by doing, er, nothing because it isn't actually broken to start with?

    One thing I DO agree with - send Gove to Australia, one way ticket.

  15. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    I think the technical term is 'engineering'

    And to be honest, I think there will be as many kids bored with compulsory engineering computing lessons as there are with office suite instruction.

    Hopefully, though, they won't be the *same* kids. Engineering is imperative to understand a technological society, but the better the engineers are, the less a user has to understand.

    That said - 'computer engineering' (not necessarily computer science) goes all the way from 'this is an AND gate' to programming APIs for the latest display surfaces.

    (Apropos of which - has anyone else noticed that current computers have fewer and fewer external connections through which one can actually influence hardware, as opposed to talking to the web? It's getting really hard to manipulate physical objects these days - try bit-banging an I2C protocol from a laptop...)

  16. miket82
    WTF?

    So who do we blame now?

    As expected the teachers are saying no. If they are so concerned about multinationals deciding the curriculum why have they not suggested something instead of being negative, as always. As for saying school I.T is not boring where is their evidence? Have they conducted a survey of the children or don't children count. I could equally say teachers are boring but it would not make it true. If the current system is so good (according to the teachers union) why is the UK I.T skills pool so parlous.

  17. IHateWearingATie
    Facepalm

    Fixed the title for you...

    "Australia should head hunt the civil servant who finally got their secretary of state to realise there is a problem, developed the policy and wrote the words he spoke"

    You don't think he actually knows anything about IT do you?

  18. harimanjaro

    You can have him

    It took the efforts of groups like Computing at School and the Raspberry Pi Foundation to persuade Gove of the mess we were in, and his knee-jerk response demonstrates that he still doesn't understand the magnitude of the problem. A flexible IT curiculum from September? Who's going to teach it? It's not just kids today who aren't learning computer science, most of their teachers didn't learn it either. I've read that of the 28,000 teachers who qualified in 2010 just three were qualified in computer science. Maybe he expects the Big Society is to provide, but knowing his type he'll just outsource to India.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You can have him...

    ...on a free transfer , and no returns! other than his headline grabbing announcement (with no real plan on how to do it) , you might find the rest of his ideas abhorrent and incompatible with equal opportunities for all citizens , or perhaps Aus. would like religious nutters to run their schools too?

    The biggest problem with Academic Computing is educationists , the head of computing at our local computing specialist school confidently told her pupils that you couldn't create web pages with anything but dreamweaver , not that the pupils were not allowed but that no other program could manage such a task.... this is further compounded by it taking longer to approve course material then the life span of the iteration of any programming tool.

    1. Magnus_Pym

      Absolutely. Some people obviously didn't get to the bit were he says industry leaders like Microsoft and Google helping to shape the curriculum. What a crock.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Holmes

        Or they could just call the IEEE or the ACM.

        But thhere should be no problem with *people from* Microsoft and Google helping to shape the curriculum, as long as they are not the people from the penetrative tentacle arm injecting requirements on products. There's good and bad in companies.

  20. SynicNZ
    Alert

    I do not understand how R Pi will save the world

    Raspberry Pi is just some hardware abet cheap.

    To teach kids to program they need:

    an environment that supports development

    teachers with the knowledge and skill to guide the pupils

    a language that will in the first instance allow quick development - with GUI

    a language that can then be expanded to allow more control - i.e. lower level.

    As far as I am aware R Pi is not going to supply all of that.

    In teaching programing, the hardware is not important. What is important is the environment, the tools, and the teacher

    1. wobbly1

      R Pi is a "me too" product

      Arduino is established and cheap. it has plenty of support materials for learning , many many affordable add ons and an eco system of inventive users. it helps in the understanding of coding AND hardware. Oh and has the advantage of being open source.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I get the impression that Raspberry Pi, although well-intentioned, has quite a bit to do with people reliving their microcomputer era indulgences, regardless of whether kids today identify with them, plus a not insignificant amount of score-settling amongst various Cambridge area technologists who saw their favourite technology companies squander their opportunities and ultimately beach themselves in the 1990s. In some cases, some of those technologists may have played a bit part in actually guiding (or failing to guide) those companies and keep them afloat, so they might be looking on this as their second chance.

  21. Andy The Hat Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Optional

    Let's all go back in time and the first computer science taught in schools - BBC micros and BBC BASIC, that was it. "IT" developed into a bit of everything in the 80s and then morphed into "ICT" at which point we started training kids to type and do secretarial duties. In F/HE we used to teach base level electronics though to 4GLs in various guises of "IT" ... the college SHUT its IT department last year having grown into a department where 50% of the teaching was application usage, networking had been dropped and one term of a three year course was the only time you did any programming (visual basic).

    It is more than time for a massive hike in IT standards and methodology - but what Gove said is dangerous. Teach kids programming methodologies and you create a programmer who can potentially write 'apps' and 'applications' for a multitude of environments. However, using Gove's words, you teach kids 'how to write apps' you create an Apple specific app writer who doesn't know Pascal from C or a database from a RAID array and, to a large extent, is probably unemployable at the end of their course as the tech they've learned is out of date ...

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'll put up with Gove

    as long as RM go to hell.

  23. Mike Richards

    When do you want him?

    Obviously we'd be heart-broken to lose such a popular and charismatic minister, well known for his ideology-free, consensual approach; but perhaps it would be for the best if one more toxic reptile made its home in Australia.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Mr Popular

      Surely people aren't suggesting that if Mr Gove were dropped into a shark tank, the sharks would all jump out and take their chances on land?!

  24. Rob Davis

    Coding X Factor on Saturday night TV? Culture and role models, stereotypes. Great article.

    Culture and role models are part of the solution as is RaspberryPi - can't just revolutionise computing learning on its own.

    Article is spot on about kids with "thick glasses" tinkering with technical stuff. That's still a stereotype being perpetuated.

    There is bit of inventiveness and enthusiasm for technology, I reckon, in more (young) people - but they haven't expressed this openly.

    Part of the reason for more people not exploring technology might be the geeky stereotype and lack of positive, compelling and non-stereotypical role models. Fame culture might also be to blame, so what about some kind of coding X Factor on a Saturday night?

    Also, success with computing has proven to be not just about the technology, entrepreneurship counts but there is a pessimism about this I feel. Partly down to programmes such as Watchdog which seem to me to give entrepreneurism a bad name by TV for its own sake highlighting the worst of it.

    The Watchdog TV programme need to be scrapped and merged with Dragon's Den to give a balanced programme so that both the interests of the consumer and entrepreneur are supported and presented in a balanced way and how they can work together.

    The Apprentice needs a new entrepreneur for each series to celebrate more role models we have. What about Richard Branson next time, or less well known ones like Charles Moir - featured in the Reg.

    Success is also down to multidisciplinary approach - Facebook's Zuckerberg studied psychology along side computing - so he was equipped with the human aspect of technology its application.

    There are some great course modules in Computing degrees at UK universities covering the human, economic and societal impact.

    Both thumbs up and down welcome - but a reason why would be appreciated. Thanks for reading. Why isn't Reg's thumb votes AJAX based for same/in-page voting? Quite clunky!

    1. Lamont Cranston

      I don't know whether to upvote you

      for the suggested change to the Reg voting system, or downvote you for the "coding X factor" suggestion (wasn't Beauty & The Geek bad enough?)!

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Big task ahead

    ... you will need to re-program the *kids* too. Because at present there are waves of school leavers who think they're web designers because they knocked a page up in Dreamweaver. I know. I have to interview them.

  26. Torben Mogensen

    What to teach?

    No kids today need to learn how to _use_ a computer -- most do that even before they start school. So if ICT teaching has to make any sense, it should be about something else.

    Programming is one such thing. But it should not be programming animations or games using some fancy GUI point-and-click interface. That may be a lot of fun, but they don't really learn much from that that they haven't already learned by playing Sims, Minecraft or other games. I agree with the Raspberry Pi people that you need to go down to a lower level where you essentially direct the flow of every bit rather than have most things happening under the hood: You don't learn to read a map by using a GPS navigator, and the same applied here: If the essentials are automated so you only have to select between a set of preprogrammed behaviours, you don't understand what goes on. Sure, the end results can be pretty convincing: With GPS navigation, you can get quickly and surely to your destination, and with Scratch and similar game-builders, you can quickly get coloured icons moving and interacting on the screen. But both decouples you from understanding what navigation or programming is really about.

    Hardware-wise Raspberry Pi is much more than needed, and programming it on a low level only gets you so far: Graphics and sound are done by complex and opaque graphics and sound processors, and even Linux gets between you and the machine, so you are not really in touch with the hardware. So you really need to emulate a simpler machine and programming model if you want to teach programming at a level of understanding higher than cut-paste-modify.

    So forget about graphics and sound to begin with and start with the basics: Bits and numbers. And then show how you can build more complex data from simpler components and how programming is very much a game of defining data structures and making decisions based on structured decomposition and inspection of data. Don't try to motivate by solving "real world" problems. That just adds the complication of abstracting concrete problems to abstract data, which, while an important issue, is something you should not learn until you are thoroughly familiar with manipulating abstract data. (Abstract in the sense of not having an inherent "meaning").

    Programming isn't the only thing to teach in ICT. There are all the non-technical aspects such as ICT in society, ethics, law, and so on. But programming -- especially at a low level -- imparts systematic problem analysis and solving and how to work in uncompromising environments, which are skills that are useful even outside ICT.

    1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge
      Pint

      Well said.

      I once talked with well known C++ guru (lets call him "bs" since this is how he normally signs himself). He told me that graduates from some well known US university were tasked, by an employer (routine task on graduate program with this employer, IIRC) to implement a heap memory manager. Normally you would need to plan for the data structure to maintain all the allocations etc. but as it happens, some groups of young graduates were only taught Java. The best some of them would come up with was "just use new and call it memory manager". This is when said employer went to the university heads and kindly asked them to stop "teaching" Java.

      I'm not saying Java is bad (I was amazed by it when I saw Disruptor) but rather that low level concepts and data structures are basics and must be taught first! Not GUI and "fancy stuff" happening on screen; for beginners they are about as useful as learning Excel or Word. Of course once you know the basics, the things are different.

  27. Mike Banahan
    Unhappy

    A true but sad story

    I started teaching programming language courses in 1977 in a British University, initially FORTRAN and BASIC (ugh).

    I then moved to commercially teaching C, then C++ then PHP programming as fashions changed. The age of students coming on commercial programming courses varies, but didn't change substantially and would typically be mostly in their twenties to thirties.

    I stopped when an old stalwart exercise became unteachable: having shown students variables, loops and output statements, they were given the simple formula and then asked to write a program which counted 0-100 and printed that value, plus its equivalent in Fahrenheit if it were a Celsius temperature.

    For years that was one of the ease-you-in starter exercises, total time expected about 5 mins including getting a biscuit to eat while you did it.

    My disillusionment came when increasing numbers of students would look upon this exercise with blank faces. I well remember the first time I said:

    "Ok, I've shown you variables, statements and loops, how do you plan to do this exercise?"

    Answer: "You haven't show us how to do it"

    Me: "I've shown you the tools you need and the formula, how do you think you might start?"

    Them (baffled): "But you haven't shown us how to do it"

    And that was when I realised what British schools were now turning out. The difference in attitude and approach was truly striking.

    I stopped teaching programming courses not long after.

    1. Torben Mogensen

      Problem solving is a skill that is not taught well enough in the modern school system. There are lots of so-called "problem-oriented exercises", but what these really are are just simple applications of formulae to problems where the numbers are given units instead of being abstract numbers. Completely absent is the idea of breaking a complex problem down to smaller problems, solving these and combining the results to a solution of the complex problem and then judging if the solution makes any sense in the original context.

      But that is maybe not so surprising: Problem solving is very down-played in the national curriculum of the UK, and you can easily pass exams with no skill whatsoever in problem solving. Students that give up on problem-solving without making a real effort are just shown how to solve the problem, and are never required to do the process without help, let alone required to judge their own efforts.

      That said, a programming course should teach the basics of problem solving if the students do not possess these skills when they start. In the first few lectures, you might not even use the computer or write any code -- just solve some abstract problems that are amenable to analysis and decomposition.

  28. Downside
    Childcatcher

    A generation of linux driver writers

    Yeah, that's what we need. A Generation of linux driver writers. I'd suggest a better approach would be coaching them in writing Android or iOS apps; at least they'd probably be able to monitise their endeavors a bit quicker than writing a mouse driver.

    Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of a R Pi, and I too caught the coding bug from TRS80s and BBC B's.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'm sure plenty of people running successful businesses will tell you that unless you're aiming to do things cheaper than the competition, you have to do a bit more than what the competition is already doing. Writing "apps" is just joining the herd. In fact it's depressing that turning a few coins on the basis of some "app" is now the height of aspiration.

  29. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

    environment and teachers - agree. Language - I think two very different languages are a must e.g. Haskell and Python. This is required to grasp the notion that there are many tools for the job and some are better suited for specific tasks than others.

    "quick" development - you mean RAD? God forbid! Machine generated should only be used by those who are able to read it and understand.

    In case you meant no RAD but simply something rewarding "... with GUI" I ask: why? Does school work really has to rewarding with nice pictures on the screen? There are few pictures in twitter and facebook, it seems like kids do not needs those. In any case, GUI can be provided by the web browser (e.g. rendering output of CGI on the screen and kids writing CGI in the language of choice). Anyway I believe kids would be bored with GUI very fast; it's "how it actually works, inside" which they should be able and wanting to focus on.

    Nothing in my day job involves nice pictures and it never had, still it's useful work (I like to think) and rewarding too - to see my calculations performed in live environment and creating actual value for the clients.

    I think what is needed are challenges - there do not seem to be many left, but that's NOT true! I just kind of doubt that teachers will be able to find them :/

    1. Vic

      > GUI can be provided by the web browser (e.g. rendering output of CGI on the screen

      I'm not sure that's the right way to introduce people to programming; CGI inherently uses one language (e.g. PHP or perl) to write another (HTML / JS). That's a complexity I think we should avoid at this level.

      But something like Glade / GtkBuilder gives an easy way to do GUIs without an excessive amount of farting around. You have to know a bit about a GUI environment, of course, but the idea of linking stimuli to even handlers ought to be a fairly basic concept to anyone heading in that direction...

      Vic.

      1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

        the thing about GUI is that, in order to do it properly, one has to get the idea of events and handlers. "events" are difficult when you want to know what is really going on, since it hangs on asynchronous programming. And if you don't learn what is going on, you might be better of just learning forms in Access or spreadsheets in Excel.

        So what I propose instead is start with data structures and basic data operations; both in functional (Haskell?) and imperative(Python or Java etc.) manner. Be sure to include asynchronous programming with events to curriculum and only then, after events and handlers (or signals and slots) have been introduced and explained, jump into GUI.

        Oh and do some proper hacking in C in Linux kernel or in gcc or gimp or some other "large" project. The basic concepts of the language are simple, it's reading and understanding other ppls code which is the hard part. Making small changes and seeing them on screen (even if its only obscene error messages from gcc) is going to be fun.

        I'd love the kids to learn C++ but let's face it, if they know some functional, some OOP and low level like C, that's more than enough.

        1. Vic

          > the thing about GUI is that, in order to do it properly, one has to get the idea

          > of events and handlers.

          Yes - but that's dead easy to teach if you've got more than two people in the room.

          PCW did an article on events way back in 1980[1]. I remember it being quite good at the time. If they can cover it in a magazine article, you can talk a class through it in no time flat. Events aren't a difficult concept, they just frequently have a tortuous syntax.

          > So what I propose instead is start with data structures and basic data operations

          I wouldn't disagree. It's always a good plan to walk before you can run. But nevertheless, GUI programming *should* be covered, at least superficially. And IMO, CGI would be the wrong way to go about that.

          > Oh and do some proper hacking in C in Linux kernel

          Absolutely not.

          There are many things to hack on that would teach a child quite a lot about coding in a comparatively short space of time. Something as large, complex, and reconfigurable as the Linux kernel would be an exercise in frustration; the time-lag between having a go and actually seeing any results would simply be prohibitive.

          Vic.

          [1] Yes, I did have to go and check. It was a memorable cover[2], and I still refer to something similar when trying to explain events to someone else.

          [2] See http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/big/3142/Personal-Computer-World-June-1980/

          1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            "> Oh and do some proper hacking in C in Linux kernel

            Absolutely not.

            There are many things to hack on that would teach a child quite a lot about coding in a comparatively short space of time."

            well OK I don't insist on Linux kernel. Anything will do, as long as it makes the kids realize that "changing how stuff works, just for the heck of it" can be fun. It will help to absorb important lessons on code organization (even if only by seeing bad examples, thus prompting to ponder "couldn't this have been made more readable?") and on low levels things like pointers etc.

            The thing is that we write code not *for* machine; we write it for other programmers (even if "other" means "older me"). We write it *to* execute on the machine, though. Both aspects are important and must lay at the basics of IT teaching.

  30. gaz 7
    Thumb Up

    Gove spoke sense, now follow through....

    What we need to do is to teach kids the concepts so the skills and knowledge is transferable between oppertunities and problems.

    That applies equally to coding, office apps, web design, etc etc.

    Teaching kids to code in Basic/Python/C etc and nowt else is not much better to be honest than teaching them how to use Word. They should also be taught hardware and interfacing with the real world

    Although Raspberry Pi is a great idea, it is not the whole answer, but at the price there should be no barriers to schools and individuals buying plenty of them for different projects.

    Th

    1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

      bulk purchase Raspbery Pi + cheap monitors + keyboards

      .... then explain basics of C, give them kernel sources (and git with instructions how to undo bad commits), and let the kids hack away :D

      Well maybe not so fast, but I'd love to see IT taught along these lines. No fancy GUI stuff, no mouse - they have it all at home anyway!

      oh, maybe start with fast course of touch typing. The above set should work just fine!

  31. Versace
    Coat

    Papua / New Guinea should head-hunt Michael Gove

    IMHO

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