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Education Programming United Kingdom

Exam Board Deletes C and PHP From CompSci A-Levels 663

Posted by samzenpus
from the who-needs-them dept.
VitaminB52 writes "A-level computer science students will no longer be taught C, C#, or PHP from next year following a decision to withdraw the languages by the largest UK exam board. Schools teaching the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance's (AQA) COMP1 syllabus have been asked to use one of its other approved languages — Java, Pascal/Delphi, Python 2.6, Python 3.1, Visual Basic 6, and VB.Net 2008. Pascal/Delphi is 'highly recommended' by the exam board because it is stable and was designed to teach programming and problem-solving."
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Exam Board Deletes C and PHP From CompSci A-Levels

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  • by Tim C (15259) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @05:44AM (#32190686)

    But, so what?

    If you understand programming, picking up any given language is straightforward.

    If you don't understand programming, it doesn't really matter what languages you know.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If picking up any given language is straightforward, then why does everyone list the languages they know on their resume?

      • by DangerFace (1315417) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:05AM (#32190798) Journal

        Maybe because resumes get sent to HR and management, not experienced programmers?

        • by MrZilla (682337) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:13AM (#32190848) Homepage

          Maybe because resumes get sent to HR and management, not experienced programmers?

          Exactly. When a manager is looking to hire a person, knowing that "we create our software using C", he expects to see "Knowledge of the C language" on the resume he gets.

          Trying to argue that you extensive knowledge of Pascal, JAVA and Assembly for the given platform means you will be able to work efficiently anyways, since you'll very quickly pick up the C knowledge needed, probably won't get you hired, even if it is true.

          Of course, there might be the special case where an intimate knowledge of setjump or the structure of the stack during a function call might be needed, but I think those cases are somewhat rare.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DarthVain (724186)

          In many cases Managers don't really get it either, and many times they are the ones doing the hiring.

          People make fun of the "Required X years of Y programming language" yet Y hasn't been around for X years yet. However it is sadly true, at least in a relative way.

          I find myself not bothering to even apply for some jobs because of all the silly requirements they ask for. I graduated Computer Science back in 2000, so the languages I learned in University were stuff like Pascal, Cobol, C, VB, Assembly, etc... A

      • by delinear (991444) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:06AM (#32190802)
        I guess it depends if we expect the exams to be about learning the foundations, or actually learning practical skills. If it's the former, the language isn't so important as they'll need to do a fair amount of learning on the job, if it's the latter then the language could be valuable experience prior to their first role. From personal experience, I'd rather universities taught the foundations and didn't try to instill a sense of practical knowledge, because most of the university graduates I interview who do have practical knowledge tend to have been taught bad or very outdated practice, and it's much harder to break them out of those practices and teach the right way than it is to teach someone who knows the underlying principles the right way from scratch. Until universities can keep up with the fast pace of "web languages", they should stick to ensuring students unerstand the theory above all.
        • by LarrySDonald (1172757) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:08AM (#32191560)
          Teaching foundations is obviously the most important thing, and yes, you can do that well in many languages. BUT while you learn the foundations, you get the bonus of getting comfortable in one or more languages as you write in them. Which one(s) should you use this bonus on? Pascal? Not thinking that's wise. For the record, my school used modula2/3 and ML for functional until later when everything went to C/C++. I would have much rather gotten further comfort in C/C++ and Lisp to start with, seeing as they're actually somewhat used and the basics don't change anyway.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Trepidity (597)

        Partly because it's straightforward in principle, but takes some time in practice. There are at least two levels of language knowledge: having some idea of how to write things in the language, and knowing the languages's quirks, best practices, pitfalls, and, generally, pragmatics. The first is the stuff that anyone with a strong CS background should be able to pick up. But the latter requires just a lot of experience. If you take a complex language like C++, how does one learn which of the (many) features

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by AlecC (512609)

          I would agree with this based on my experience learning Java. With many years C++ experience, learning the Java syntax was half a day with a book, and being able to write reasonably good code wehich did what I expected was about two days. But, reckoning by hindsight, it was about eighteen months before I was a good Java programmer with all the language idioms at my fingertips and a good knowledge of all the pitfalls. And that is with a clean, well designed, language. With a hybrid, lower level, and sprawlin

      • by teh kurisu (701097) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:21AM (#32190882) Homepage

        I find that knowing the language syntax is only half the battle. Learning how to use the libraries properly (standard or not) takes much, much longer.

        My education in programming has largely been in Java since late high school and all the way through university, with deviations along the way into VB, C, PHP and PROLOG. Recently at work, I've had to pick up C++ in order to do some Symbian development.

        Picking up what I needed to know of C++ was the easiest part. Learning how to use the Symbian C++ libraries, on the other hand, has been a monumental task, and one that has largely been ditched in favour of Qt for Symbian, which is much, much easier to get to grips with.

        In theory I can now put 'knows C++' on my CV. I don't really. I've hardly used the standard libraries. I'm pretty confident I could write a Qt-based C++ app without too much trouble, either on the desktop or on Symbian. But I wouldn't have the first clue where to start if I was asked to write a Windows app, without a decent bit of learning and training. And I would avoid native Symbian like the plague.

        I'm no expert in CV writing (I'm still in my first proper job after leaving uni), but I think that listing the things that you have done, and then mentioning the languages and environments that they were done in, is better than simply listing the languages that you know.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by i_ate_god (899684)

        If picking up any given language is straightforward, then why does everyone list the languages they know on their resume?

        Because it also can demonstrate knowledge of libraries. I picked up the Java syntax in one day. Then I had to sift through pages and pages of documentation for the standard SDK, and various other APIs and SDKs and whatnot. Just because you understand a syntax, doesn't mean you're efficient in programming that language. I know the syntax of Python, but I don't know it's quirks, so I'm not very good in Python.

    • Yes, and no (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Mathinker (909784)

      When I took the introductory course to computer programming in college, we actually were exposed to other programming paradigms than the standard industry ones. It included Prolog and SNOBOL, for example. Even though I would agree that neither of those languages has any practical application in industry today, I still think that it was an important part of my education to see these kinds of extremes (no, that doesn't mean I think that the brainfuck language [wikipedia.org] should be taught to high school students --- anywa

    • Then why not C? (Score:5, Informative)

      by mangu (126918) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:12AM (#32190842)

      If you understand programming, picking up any given language is straightforward.

      How can you understand programming if you don't understand how it works under the hood?

      Teaching assembly (which CPU?) wouldn't be practical but C is the next best thing. I agree with you that any programmer should be able to pick up a new language without too much effort, but unless you know how the internal structures of the programs work you will never be able to write good code, at best your code will be painfully slow, at worst it will be outright dangerous.

      If only one language is taught, then it should be C for anyone who expects to be a professional programmer, knowing C they can easily pick up any other procedural language. A programmer who doesn't know C is like a doctor who doesn't know anatomy.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Halo1 (136547)

        If only one language is taught, then it should be C for anyone who expects to be a professional programmer, knowing C they can easily pick up any other procedural language. A programmer who doesn't know C is like a doctor who doesn't know anatomy.

        I think you could say the same about Delphi-style Pascal. You can go as low level as in C there (and believe me, many people do, which is a pain if you develop a cross-platform Delphi-compatible compiler), and as a bonus you also learn an object model that's pretty much identical to Java's.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mangu (126918)

          I think you could say the same about Delphi-style Pascal. You can go as low level as in C there

          I'd say you are 99% right, but not quite. Pascal has a few abstractions that isolate you from the machine, like the set type for instance.

          Also, AFAIK, standard Pascal does not have function pointers, although I believe many versions, including Delphi, have implemented their non-standard extensions for this. Without function pointers it's very hard to do scientific programming, try writing a generic procedure to in

          • Re:Then why not C? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Halo1 (136547) <jonas@maebe.elis@ugent@be> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @07:34AM (#32191294) Homepage

            I think you could say the same about Delphi-style Pascal. You can go as low level as in C there

            I'd say you are 99% right, but not quite. Pascal has a few abstractions that isolate you from the machine, like the set type for instance.

            Yes, it has both high a low level abstractions. I meant that you can go as low level as in C. You indeed don't always have to though.

            Also, AFAIK, standard Pascal does not have function pointers,

            It does have them: http://www.moorecad.com/standardpascal/iso7185.html#6.6.3.4%20Procedural%20parameters [moorecad.com]

            although I believe many versions, including Delphi, have implemented their non-standard extensions for this.

            Delphi did introduce a lot of non-standard extensions to Pascal (and in fact, the way it implemented support for function pointers is different form the ANSI ISO way). Nowadays, Delphi-style Pascal is however one of the most popular variants around and sort of has evolved into a de facto standard.

            I learned Pascal in the early 1980s, when the computer I had was an IBM PC with a 4.77 MHz CPU. I did a lot of programming in Turbo Pascal version 3, but I ended learning C because there were some operations I couldn't do with Turbo Pascal. After I learned C, I never felt the need to use Pascal anymore.

            I also learned Pascal first, though it was in the 90's. I now also know both Pascal and C, but still prefer Pascal. Keep in mind that Delphi-style/Object Pascal is more than C. It's more like C with the addition of Java-style OOP.

        • by Motard (1553251) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @07:25AM (#32191240)

          I taught a class on Delphi to a group of mostly non-programmers. It was very successful. Consider...

          First project:

          1) Open Delphi
          2) Press Run

          You've just written, compiled, linked and executed your first Delphi program. We'll get into the details later.

          Second Project:

          1) Open Delphi
          2) Drop a button on the default form
          3) Drop a slider on the default form
          4) Double-click the OnChange event on the slider
          5) Type Button1.Left := Slider1.position * 10;
          6) Run

          Now I can show visually show you what this does and talk about components, objects, properties, events, syntax, variables, assignment statements, build cycles, etc. - all in ways that you can see.

          Plus, unlike Java or C#, I can show you procedural (non-OO) console app or service programming. And we can go all the way down to assembly language if you want.

          For Linux see Free Pascal and Lazarus.

      • Re:Then why not C? (Score:5, Informative)

        by confused one (671304) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:42AM (#32190988)
        First of all, I believe they're talking about a U.S. high school level course. Second, having learned on BASIC and Pascal myself, I can assure you that you can learn fundamentals and internal operations using those languages.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by elrous0 (869638) *
          I heard once that the A-levels are the Brit equivalent of the U.S. high school AP course levels. And your point is well taken. I learned BASIC in my AP course study in high school back when home computers were still a bit of a novelty. And, even in today's object-oriented world, I was able to adapt that knowledge much easier to modern languages than most of my peers who had never studied any computer language before.
      • Re:Then why not C? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by seanellis (302682) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @07:01AM (#32191084) Homepage Journal

        Why not assembly language?

        Build up from the very bottom. ARM assembly (disclaimer - I work for ARM) is ubiquitous and pretty close to an idealised assembler. Dev kits are available for cheap.

        Then you build up through structured assembly, C-like languages (PASCAL?), and so on. Otherwise, it's like trying to build houses without understanding what bricks are.

        That's the way I did it, except being as how I'm old and crusty the assembly language I started with was SC/MP, and we also had a load of BASIC thrown into the mix.

        • Re:Then why not C? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by robvangelder (472838) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @07:12AM (#32191146)

          I agree and disagree.

          My first programming language was Motorola MC68000 on the Amiga 500. I must admit, programming languages are easy once you know what the code compiles into.

          However, object oriented programming was very, very alien to me. There are some programming topics that can't be taught by learning assembly alone.

        • Re:Then why not C? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Opportunist (166417) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:08AM (#32191556)

          You want to frustrate our new students this early? :)

          I hold that doctor and anatomy comparison and raise a language comparison. You want to teach kids a new language by telling them the grammar rules while not giving them any encouragement by giving them a way to communicate in it.

          You start teaching programming by rote learning. Seriously. Yes, yes, it's all wrong and it teaches you so many horribly wrong ideas, but that's where you start. There is a reason why many schools in the past taught LOGO as a first language to school kids. Because that gives you immediate feedback while requiring very little knowledge of the language itself.

          You have to understand, they know nothing at all about programming. That's already where many teachers fail to teach properly, especially if they are good programmers. The idea of procedural programming and that a program is executed step by step is already alien to them, something that probably you and me grasped immediately. VB, as condemnable as it may be, at least teaches this concept, and branches, loops and so on too. All that is HORRIBLY hard to grasp for many kids starting into programming. Especially if they don't have the mindset.

          I know it might sound odd, but I noticed that there are people who instantly catch on, who immediately understand the way a procedural language works, and people who have an incredibly hard time wrapping their mind around it. We don't just all start on equal ground here. And for you and me, teaching ASM is probably the sensible way to start, simply because we do understand those concepts for some reason. Call it talent, call it whatever you like, but it's anything but the norm.

          So starting with some high level language (JAVA would be great, IMO, simply because it prepares you for the C syntax. Yes, yes, a good programmer knows how to program, not his rotes, but these ARE NOT good programmers, they're beginners!) is quite sensible. Let them get used to the idea of procedural programming before you toss overhead at them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AliasMarlowe (1042386)

      If you understand programming, picking up any given language is straightforward.

      Indeed. But it probably helps if you start by learning a fairly well-structured language. Preferably a couple of quite different languages. My first two were Fortran-66 and APL/360, which are almost as different as you can get (and which also reveal my age). The next few languages were PL/I, Focal, C, Basic, and LaTeX, and these have been followed by numerous others.

      Adding Pascal/Delphi to the list is a good idea, but dropping C and PHP while retaining VB and VB.net is beyond any sane comprehension.

      • by GPSguy (62002) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @07:36AM (#32191306) Homepage

        Retaining VB and VB.net suggest a hefty Microsoft contribution. At least to me.

        I've been watching the dilution of programming skills in our CompSci department over the last several years. The question I've been asking is, "Who's going to write the next OS, or even the next decent compiler, if we stop teaching languages that get us closer to the hardware?" From our administration, the answer's been a bit quiet, but seems to be either, "who cares?", or "why?"

        In an OS class I taught recently, 3 of 5 students had not been exposed to any assembly language over the course of 4 years of CompSci, two had not met a full C programming class, either in high school or college. Most had experience in java. All had taken .net classes. None had any class requirement to be familiar with Linux or Unix. In the comments at the end of the class, several were very unhappy that all my class examples required a command line and didn't show them a flashy GUI to look at registers or other output.

        On the positive side, although the senior professor in OS liked what I'd done, and was nonplussed by the evaluations, the department head has said I wasn't likely to teach again, because I tended to focus on technologies that weren't relevant to our students, like web programming and SAAS. Upon reminding her I'd been assigned an OS class, she said I could have integrated more web programming into the content instead of, say, the lectures on HPC, threading, and message-passing, which is what I do a lot of these days, and an area I feel is underrepresented. That I "wasted" two lectures, and still covered all the (approved) syllabus material, and that the kids all did manage to pass with decent grades, wasn't as important as the fact that I'd not focused on what she (and the students) thought was important. (Strange, when did my syllabus become a topic for debate with the class?)

        And while I'm ranting, there's an awful lot of real science still written in Fortran, but it's not taught much anymore. I'm thinking of reviving a free-university class in fortran to support scientific newbies who need to learn it for their course-work and graduate degrees.

    • by Verunks (1000826)

      But, so what?

      If you understand programming, picking up any given language is straightforward.

      If you don't understand programming, it doesn't really matter what languages you know.

      this is true but every language has its way to do stuff and experience is important, for example most of these languages don't allow the use of pointers so they probably won't even know about them

      also it's good that they choose python but why pascal or visual basic? it's not like those students will use them when they get out in the real world, imho it's better to stick with a useful set of languages instead of switching later "since they are all the same"

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by SharpFang (651121)

      If you know Java, pointers in C will be black magic to you.

  • C is key (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nailchipper (461706) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @05:44AM (#32190688) Homepage

    What a shame. C is an important foundation.

    • Re:C is key (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 16Chapel (998683) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @05:58AM (#32190752)
      Quite. And VB is a horrible abomination.

      In all seriousness, if you learn a C-based language it gives you a huge headstart towards learning the other C-based languages, and there are far more of those out there than Basic-type languages.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Threni (635302)

      Look on the bright side - people can now learn VB6 instead...

    • Re:C is key (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:48AM (#32191018)
      I'm not a CS major, I'm a mechanical engineering major and I just wanted to learn how to program as a hobby. I found it a lot easier to learn C than anything else I tried.

      I'm not going to pretend to know how to program very well but I thought that because C didn't do very much for you that it gave a better foundation for learning other languages. I did learn a bit of python, but it was easier after learning C because you know what's going on "behind the scenes" so to speak.

      For example, I had this weird ass problem in python where, for some reason, it was treating an integer value as a string. In C you have to specify variable types when you declare them. Because I knew about different variable types I knew that I had to look up how to explicitly declare variables as certain types in python. In C, you have to learn things like variable types, casting, pointers, etc. just to make a program that does anything at all. Languages like python are taught such that you completely gloss over these subjects and just assume that the computer magically knows what you're trying to tell it to do. When you run into a problem you can't fix it because you don't know what's actually going on.

      I suggest that introductory programming classes use C rather than other things. The counter argument I generally get is "We want the students to make a program that actually does something so that they can write some programs after only a couple lectures". This loosely translates to "we want to entertain the students rather than teach them."

      Although perhaps there's a middle ground. For non-CS majors, teach a language like python. Python allows for quick programs that, while not amazingly efficient, don't really need to be. For example, formatting a file with a shitload of data from a strain gauge. This might have to be done a total of, say, two times and thus efficiency really isn't an issue. Furthermore, non-CS majors (like mechanical and electrical engineers) don't have to understand the very basics of programming, they don't have much relevance to their field.
      For CS majors, start off with languages like C because their job is to understand the very very basics.
  • So what? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jawtheshark (198669) *

    What's the big deal? One programming language is like the other, at least within the same paradigm. If you can program in Pascal, you can program in C. If you can't you learned a syntax and not "how to program". Basically, when I was a computer science student, we got one language taught for the concepts and the rest was just "swim or sink". That's the way it should be. I really have a problem with programmers who have problems switching from their preferred-language to another because it's unfamiliar

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anzya (464805)

      That might be the case but your chances of getting hired is greater if you have C on you resume than pascal.
      If they wanted a language that is simple to learn they could have chosen python instead. It's just as easy as pascal but has the benefit that it is actually used in the industry.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        We're talking about A Levels here, two years of education between 16 and 18. To get hired into a serious position as a programmer a Computer Science degree is usually required.

        Disclaimer: I learnt Pascal during my Computing A Level and it didn't do me any harm!

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Antiocheian (859870)

      If you can program in Pascal, you can program in C

      But if you can program in C you are wasting your time with Pascal.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Rockoon (1252108)

        But if you can program in C you are wasting your time with Pascal.

        Explain that to the programmers that went from Pascal to C, said "WTF THIS SUCKS", and moved back to Pascal and then on to Delphi when it hit the shelves.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Antiocheian (859870)

          But if you can program in C you are wasting your time with Pascal.

          Explain that to the programmers

          Linux, Windows, (Open)Office, Firefox, Nethack, Doom, etc, etc, etc.

    • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Matthew Dunn (864338) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:09AM (#32190818)

      What's the big deal? One programming language is like the other, at least within the same paradigm. If you can program in Pascal, you can program in C. If you can't you learned a syntax and not "how to program". Basically, when I was a computer science student, we got one language taught for the concepts and the rest was just "swim or sink". That's the way it should be. I really have a problem with programmers who have problems switching from their preferred-language to another because it's unfamiliar. Well, no, it's not... It's the damned same thing with diverging syntax.

      Basically, the premise of the Exam Board is quite right: the goal of programming is to have problem solving skills. Whatever language conveys that is completely uninteresting to me.

      Oh, and just for the record: programming is just a small part of the computer science curriculum... or at least it should be.

      There's a lot more that goes along with a language Sure, if you know how to code OO, use iterators, understand switch statements and other language-related elements you can change languages and write an algorithm or two But Do I know best practice for everything? If I'm a c# programmer. Do I know important differences between Ruby 1.7, 1.8. 1.9? Do I know what the best inversion of control framework is? Or what the best ORM to use is? Am I familiar with how to use it? If I'm a Ruby developer am I aware that in a .NET language if I add two strings together in c# "Hello" + "World" It constructs a new immutable string. But if I do String.Format("{0}{1}","Hello","World" it is much faster and uses less memory? Will I know all the proper coding conventions, casing, tabbing, indenting styles. There are hundreds if not thousands of useful pieces of language, compiler, and environment specific knowledge which is useful and can be pretty obvious if you do not have it. I've been playing with c#, ruby, gcc. For around ten years commercially and I still need to invest significant re-education if I swap from say ruby to gcc or ruby to c# after a year.. There is a reason that people tend to stick with one or two primary languages.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        > in a .NET language if I add two strings together in c# "Hello" + "World" It constructs
        > a new immutable string. But if I do String.Format("{0}{1}","Hello","World" it is much
        > faster and uses less memory

        REALLY?

        JavaScript engines -- with the exception of the one shipping with IE prior to version 9 -- have been cheating on this for performance reasons for a decade. It's a very important performance optimization, because of the html += "" idiom that is so prevalent on the web.

        A similar idiom to Strin

  • by daitengu (172781) * on Thursday May 13, 2010 @05:48AM (#32190696) Homepage Journal
    This warms my heart, the first language I learned was TurboPascal just so I could program Door Games for my BBS. I still run a BBS I still haven't written any door games.
  • by unity100 (970058) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @05:55AM (#32190726) Homepage Journal
    to teach them hypothetical skills in watered down, obscure platforms so they can curse you for the rest of their lives when they start working in the industry.

    i was taught fortran and pascal. i dont remember shit, and i dont think i gained much from them.

    programming can be taught with any language. problem solving can be taught with any language. it is better to teach these using a language they WILL use when they actually get into industry, than with stuff they may rarely come up against.

    uk was going down the drain for some years. i see this as another absurd jacobinism.
  • Visual Basic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tagno25 (1518033) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @05:58AM (#32190744)
    Why are they accepting Visual Basic 6, but not C++, Ruby, or even LISP?
    • by V!NCENT (1105021)

      Look at it from this way: The industry is full of crap programmers.

      Awesome programmers will teach themselve C and/or C++, while crappy programmers won't realy teach themselves VB that well...

      If programmers with a brain can learn C on their own (they probably already know the most of CS before they even attend) why not teach stupid people (ending up doind MS shit anyway) how to at least do it right.

      You do not want self-taught crap languages being performed by idiots. You want that idiots use the crap languag

  • University... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by unts (754160) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @05:58AM (#32190748) Homepage Journal
    This is why we can't really use sixth-form qualifications in this area as an indicator of a candidate's ability to program - we have to assume they know nothing, and look to Maths & Science qualifications for indication of their skills.

    I learnt Pascal and VB6 back when I was at sixth form. Then I went to uni, was taught C and thought to myself "why didn't they teach us this!? I know NOTHING".
  • by roman_mir (125474) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:03AM (#32190782) Homepage Journal

    I hope these courses are all about teaching the way to construct programming logic, to think about algorithms, to apply data structures correctly because that can be done in any language (depending on the paradigm that they choose to teach of-course, and it looks they are going with the most common, imperative one, of-course the choice of languages also shows that they are not going into declarative stuff.)

    Any one of these language can be used to teach normal structured programming with normal process flows, data structures. Object oriented stuff should not be taught until the students have basic understanding of the principles of programming.

    But it is too bad they are not including at least some Assembly and C. Actually they should do an overview of different languages and explain that there are different ways to program, they should explain the differences between paradigms, approaches, languages, they should explain computer organization as in how a machine sees the code, how does the code interact with the memory, processor, peripherals. I think it is important at least to know OF these things, if not actually completely knowing how to use them.

    I think before you teach anyone actual programming logic, structures, you explain how a machine executes the commands, so computer organization (state machines, memory, processors) + Assembly, even if only for a few hours this should be done first.

  • Dumbing Down (Score:5, Informative)

    by bhunachchicken (834243) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:05AM (#32190796) Homepage

    "The board "highly recommended" switching to Pascal/Delphi because it is stable and was designed to teach programming and problem solving. Teachers planning to use Java are warned that many universities are considering dropping it from their first year computer science programmes, "as has happened in the US"."

    Okay, seriously - in London, where I work, I don't think any of these guys would be able to get a job once they had graduated. Job listings I have looked at demand the following skills:

    Java (with Spring, Hibernate, Multi-threading, low latency, Swing, Junit)
    C#
    C/C++ (financial organizations still turn to C for high volume number crunching)
    Unix / Linux (are they going to drop this next???)
    SQL (Oracle, Sybase, SQL Server)
    Subversion, Clearcase, CVS

    None of this stuff can be picked up quickly, so the earlier you start, the better. And, no offense, but I rarely - if ever - see a job listing requesting Pascal/Delphi.

    Is this a case of dumbing down or are students just becoming lazy(-er)..?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Is this a case of dumbing down or are students just becoming lazy(-er)..?

      Maybe this [theregister.co.uk] can shed some light on the matter?

      Something is dumbed down and I don't think it is the students.

    • We work with a local university with internships. It's amazing when we get third year students and the first thing we have to teach them is source control management with SVN followed by a crash course in SQL. (Specifically PostgreSQL). Now we generally bring in interns and start them off in the Java group their Junior year as they've had 4 semesters of Java at the point. Even then it seems like they spend the first two months really learning Java. If things work out well, we're moving them over to the

      • Re:Dumbing Down (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jareth-0205 (525594) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:29AM (#32190914) Homepage

        Is this so surprising? There was a time when a University degree was supposed to be about learning concepts and theory, not specific skills. Skills were to be got as an apprentice at a company, companies used to train their new recruits. It seems that employers now just expect a University graduate to emerge with all the skills they need in their particular field and have to do no training. I can't help feeling extremely cynical when I hear companies complain about the quality of graduates when they've rescinded on their part of the bargain pretty completely.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by TheRaven64 (641858)

          There are two issues here. One is universities not teaching things. The other is students not learning them. I agree that a computer science course shouldn't be teaching things like source control or the details of a specific programming language, but that doesn't mean that the students shouldn't be learning them. If you're doing a degree in a particular field then you should be interested in it, and you should be motivated to learn more outside of the course. Universities aren't schools. They aren't

    • Job listings I have looked at demand the following skills:

      Yeah... but not for a graduate. Or no sane advert that is willing to consider a graduate would ask for most of those. And *especially* if the level we're talking about is A-level and therefore pre-University (18). I think they should use the language most suited for teaching programming concepts, not the one most common on job adverts.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by beh (4759) *

      Sorry, but I'm going to disagree with you on your assessment:

      Yes, you are right that most job posts now demand the skills you mention.

      Yes, you are right that there is probably no Pascal/Delphi job post.

      Like you, I don't agree with their offered choices.

      But - you are forgetting a few things here:

      a) There are no Delphi job posts in part because there is no real supply of delphi developers - C/C++, C#, Java, SQL developers are a dime a dozen by comparison. Companies won't start large scale Delphi developments

  • That's a travesty (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jlebrech (810586)

    They should have dropped VB and PHP, maybe also drop delphi and introduce Ruby.

  • by mwvdlee (775178) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:07AM (#32190808) Homepage

    I'm not particularly fond of Java, but atleast hey have ONE alternative that is widely used in in the industry.

    VB6 and delphi are dying languages as far as employment opportunities are concerned and Python isn't nearly as popular as PHP. I think VB.NET could get you a low-paying entry-level job though.

    The common denominator of the allowed languages is that they do not allow low-level programming. C may not be the most common language in the industry, but it gives you a great foundation in understanding what actually happens inside all those object, libraries and frameworks.

    This move is endumbening students ;)

    • by Halo1 (136547)

      On the one hand, Java uses pretty much the same object model as Pascal/Delphi (single inheritance, interfaces). On the other hand, unlike in Java you can program at the same low level in Pascal/Delphi as in C if you want to (yes, Pascal/Delphi has pointers, and you can also do pointer arithmetic if you want to). So I'd disagree with your claim that none of the allowed languages allow low-level programming.

    • by Rockoon (1252108) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:56AM (#32191062)

      C may not be the most common language in the industry, but it gives you a great foundation in understanding what actually happens inside all those object, libraries and frameworks.

      You are just another guy that thinks pointers are special (that's C's only low level feature.) Don't kid yourself.

      The last thing you need to know about is pointers if you want to understand the stuff you listed. What you need to concern yourself with is the algorithms and data structures employed, to that end references are as good as pointers.

      I am telling you this as an assembly language programmer, so don't for a second think that I am brushing off pointers as not useful. I just know that they do NOT offer insight into the things you listed.

  • Everyone's first book for computer science should be The Purple Book. If you can't handle this book, go do something easier. You'll be happier in the log run.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structure_and_Interpretation_of_Computer_Programs [wikipedia.org]

  • No array bounding, no memory protection, casts all over the place without any errors, subtleties like '==' vs '='. C is a language for people who already know how to program (well), not those who're learning.

    I like C a lot, however I'd hate to have learned to program in it. Fortunately I'd learned and had a strong foundation in Pascal first.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:27AM (#32190910)

      The point of C as a teaching language is that hardware does not bound arrays, it does not protect memory, all data is just bits and can be arbitrarily converted to anything (even if it makes no sense to do so).

      Basically, if you grok C then you are an effective programmer but if you can only program in a "safe" language then you likely don't understand how anything works and it all seems 'like magic' and there's already enough pseudo-science in the world.

      (Of course, whether you should choose to keep using C after you understand the concepts is a different question)

      • by rmstar (114746) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @07:09AM (#32191126)

        The point of C as a teaching language is that hardware does not bound arrays, it does not protect memory, all data is just bits and can be arbitrarily converted to anything (even if it makes no sense to do so).

        Basically, if you grok C then you are an effective programmer but if you can only program in a "safe" language then you likely don't understand how anything works and it all seems 'like magic' and there's already enough pseudo-science in the world.

        There is a fallacy in there. A safe language just tells you when you are doing crap, so that you learn not to do it or so that it doesn't shoot you in the foot. It doesn't make your errors go away, it just makes them explicit.

        If you are good at programming in Pascal, it is not a big problem to learn C.

        What is more, people who learn with C often develop a control-freak attitude that hinders them in the adoption of such sensible things as e.g. garbage collectors.

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @07:05AM (#32191100)

      Part of being able to write good software is actually understanding how computers think. All these things like objects, and types and so on are all constructs for making things easier for people. They are how we think, not how the processor thinks. The problem is, if all you ever learn on is languages that hold your hand, you end up not being as good a programmer. I see types like that all the time come out of the university where I work, as Java is about the only thing they like to teach. They have little to no understanding of how a computer actually works and cannot deal with lower level languages.

      Now I certainly wouldn't say C should be the only language you learn on, but it should be one of them. Learn how a computer works, and learn the power, and problems, that can be had from getting closer to the bare metal. Also then learn about higher level languages, and the advantages and disadvantages they provide. Basically, try and give students the understanding of how programming languages differ, and allow them to be able to appreciate that there are tradeoffs using different languages.

      Having a program that gets too stuck in high level languages risks producing the myopic zealot type programmers that can only write in one language and write very bad code because they are used to having the language clean up after them.

      Also, universities should endeavor to teach on what companies want. While a university degree is a theoretical degree, not practical training, that doesn't mean they have the right to be arrogant and refuse to try and offer theoretical training on real world tools. At the engineering department I work for, we try to do that. The software we use in classes is the software you'd use to do that sort of thing in the industry, when practical. That way you learn not only the electronics theory being taught, but you get practical experience with a tool.

      Same shit for programming. Teach students on languages that companies want. Guess what? C++ (and even C) and C# and such are those languages. Pascal is not. I don't care if some old fossil of a professor loves Pascal. Suck it up, learn a new language. Your job is to keep up on shit. Any educator that themselves refuses to continually learn should be fired.

      Teach students on a good cross section of languages that are currently useful. Show them the advantages and disadvantages of different kinds of languages and programming, give them a good theoretical foundation in how this all works. While you do that, do it using tools that they will actually be asked to use when they go and get a job.

    • by Fzz (153115) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @07:10AM (#32191130)
      Unfortunately our experience teaching undergrad CS students Java first is that they build a mental model of what's going on that is completely abstracted away from the concept of memory. They then struggle to understand performance issues, and when we try to get them to learn C later, they struggle because they not only need to learn C's idiosyncracies but also unlearn their mental model, which is a lot harder.

      We're actually about to switch back to teaching C in the first year (via long low-level projects for which it is well suited), as we've concluded the Java-first approach we've been using for at least ten years isn't working terribly well. It's nearly impossible for students to understand the advantages of object orientation when they haven't written complex code and haven't made the mistakes that lead to spaghetti code. So they use object orientation by rote-learning, which means they don't really understand when a lighter weight approach or a different language is appropriate and when it isn't. We'll still teach them Java and a range of other languages, but only when they've learned the reasons those languages help.

      Having said that, I don't really care what they teach at A-level. A-level CS is pretty nearly worthless - any reasonable university CS department will prefer you didn't do it, and that you'd done more maths or science instead.

  • by surelars (573834)

    If you really want a language "designed to teach programming and problem-solving", try Scheme or Haskell. Those are truly stable languages that will help students learn sound computer science principles, basic data structures, and programming principles.

    Once that's in place, learning a "real-world" programming language is straightforward. No programmer should master only a single language.

    And, yeah - C wouldn't be my choice for a first programming language either.

  • by RenHoek (101570) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:20AM (#32190876) Homepage

    People no longer learning C programming?

    More work for me! :)

  • A-Level, not Degree (Score:4, Informative)

    by mccalli (323026) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:25AM (#32190900) Homepage
    For those who don't know, these are 16-18 year olds typically and they would normally be using these exams as a stepping stone to University. They wouldn't be computer science specialists at this point.

    At this level, I agree with the decision. You're looking for aptitude and interest at this stage, not machine specifics. Pascal is a good language for expressing and solving problems and was enough to get my attention when I was doing A Levels twenty years back - in Turbo Pascal.

    Cheers,
    Ian
  • by Nick Fel (1320709) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:25AM (#32190902)
    For those outside the UK, that's the two optional years for 16-18 year olds at the end of secondary school. They're not churning out qualified programmers, they're churning out people who have a basic idea of what programming is and might want to pursue it at university. When I did the AQA Computing A-Level we were taught QBASIC and VBA. It didn't stunt my career too much.
  • The open university are going to move there beginning programming course from javascript to scratch(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scratch_%28programming_language%29)

  • by mattsday (909414) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:33AM (#32190936)

    I think the common interpretation of Computer Science is extremely misleading. It's not about programming stuff, that's more of an IT application of computers. Instead, it's about understanding the science behind computers, for example to understand the mathematical principals of computing, operational effeciency and move it on as a tool for scientific endevour.

    To this end, the choice of programming language really doesn't matter - it's a tool that the subject uses either as a proof of concept or a learning point. C is fairly good for this as it exposes a lot of the inner workings of a computer, whilst being high enough level to be more or less consistent across platforms at a university level. However, that doesn't mean that knocking up a quick proof of concept in python or perl is less valid - or even visual basic if it helps understand the science behind the problem.

    In other words, I see no real worry here. If they stopped putting mathematics in a CS course or made it in to a programming degree I'd be concerned. If it's about using various tools for the job then I'm all for it. Hell, I wrote a pascal compiler in pascal as part of my degree - it wasn't about the programming language, it was about understanding the fundamentals of compiler design and implementation.

  • by Aceticon (140883) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @07:28AM (#32191260)

    What they're talking about is A-level exams. These are taken by high-school graduates before college.

    It's not that Comp Sci students will graduate without having learned those languages, it's that candidates for Comp Sci higher education will not be expected to know them.

    As unfair as it seems to some old hands in IT, nowadays the industry rarelly hires people without college degrees for Programmer positions, so this does not mean we'll be swamped by a wave of "semi-literate" programmers.

  • Bad, bad move (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lisandro (799651) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @09:28AM (#32192324)
    The exclusion of PHP is debatible (is not really different from a gazillon other interpreted languages out there), but the exclusion of C, is, IMHO, a gross mistake. C teaches basic low-level concepts that other languages, outside assembler perhaps, dont even touch - memory management being the principal. Nowadays every developer accustomed to Java seems to think garbage collection is the end of all memory handling issues...

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