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Education Programming United Kingdom IT

British Schoolkids To Be Taught Computer Coding 247

Posted by Soulskill
from the how-to-program-politely dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The UK government has finally decided to do something about the dire state of IT and computer science teaching in the country: it will create a new 'IT-centric' General Certificate of Secondary Education that will cover computational principles, systemic thinking, software development and logic. The current ICT GCSE has been lambasted for boring kids to death with lessons on using Word and Excel, rather than teaching computer programming."
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British Schoolkids To Be Taught Computer Coding

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  • That is all I did in 5th grade which was the only time I got to program at school, on an Apple II+/IIe
  • Finally (Score:4, Funny)

    by Dunbal (464142) * on Friday September 16, 2011 @10:15AM (#37419844)
    They will find a use for all of those BBC micros that have been lying around for 25 years.
    • or...just in time for one raspberry pi per child!
    • by Hatta (162192)

      You joke, but that would be a better introduction to what computers actually do than almost anything you could teach them on a modern OS.

    • by iapetus (24050)

      The lack of BBC Micros - or something similar - has been a kick in the teeth for learning to program for many many years, IMO. When I was at primary school I taught myself to code on a ZX80, then progressed to the BBC Micro. By the time I was in my last couple of years there I was writing educational games in a combination of BASIC and Assembler for the kids in the lower classes to play. These days there isn't that ability to jump right in and start simple coding on most platforms. :(

      • I don't totally agree. Although a bit more help is needed in the early stages, it is quite remarkable how quickly a simple one-file based app can be created in Javascript. And any school that really wants to can set up a sandbox web server and deploy kids' own war files for others to try out. All the classical intro programs - like calculating factorials or finding primes, even drawing simple graphs and calculating crossing points - can be done quite easily. It's fashionable to knock Javascript - I used to,
      • Also, the state of home computing is much more advanced and it's virtually impossible to casually put together something that won't look pathetic compared to the commercial software already existing. That wasn't the case then - you saw a commercial game for the BBC and there was a very real feeling of "I could do that". Now, not really - doing something impressive by modern standards is virtually impossible for an individual at home.

  • Not just for jobs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Friday September 16, 2011 @10:17AM (#37419868) Homepage
    This is a really good thing. As the summary notes, this will teach kids logic and thinking systematically. Knowing how to program isn't just a useful skill in the direct sense of programming things and possibly being employed that way. It also does a really good job of making one think precisely and carefully. There's also another advantage which is it helps kids appreciate that the technology around them are things they can understand and don't need to treat like they are magic.
    • by maxwell demon (590494) on Friday September 16, 2011 @10:22AM (#37419920) Journal

      But will they continue it when they notice that those pupils are then able to think not only about algorithms, but also about the stuff politicians tell?

      • by discord5 (798235)

        But will they continue it when they notice that those pupils are then able to think not only about algorithms, but also about the stuff politicians tell?

        No amount of C programming will teach you to discern a lie, except in comments.

        • by Cryacin (657549)
          What's with the incessant gubbermint conspiracy theories? I mean really. There's just so much more to be concerned about right now, rather than jumping at shadows.

          And anyway, I can believe incompetence, stupidity, greed and all the rest for being at fault for why society is so broken. But malicious conspiracies? You'd need TALENT to do that.
          • by oakgrove (845019)

            And anyway, I can believe incompetence, stupidity, greed and all the rest for being at fault for why society is so broken. But malicious conspiracies? You'd need TALENT to do that.

            See, that's just what they want you to believe.~

          • by Hatta (162192)

            Who said anything about malicious conspiricies? OP mentioned lies. Do you think your government doesn't lie to you?

          • by discord5 (798235)

            What's with the incessant gubbermint conspiracy theories?

            It's a joke. Laugh. Nowhere do I mention conspiracy theories btw. Let the tinfoil hat crowd enjoy those for what they are.

            I can believe incompetence, stupidity, greed and all the rest for being at fault for why society is so broken.

            I don't disagree with you, but programming doesn't enhance your ability to see incompetence, stupidity and greed., nor the inevitable lies that follow in order to hide said incompetence, stupidity and greed. Programming is about logic, and people are not. The parent whom I replied to seemed to think that teaching someone to code would suddenly make that person less gullible. It won't.

            The

        • by fredrated (639554)

          I think it is the 'logic' part that will help discern lies, not the 'coding' part.

        • by dkleinsc (563838)

          If you really want to catch a liar (particularly in written stuff), get somebody who was trained well in the study of history. That's because history is all about figuring out what actually happened based off of faulty documents. Great historians not only know how to look through dusty archives, they also know how to use the information in those dusty archives and sort out who's telling the truth, who's lying, who's wrong and in what way, who's telling fish stories, and ultimately put together a description

      • by xaxa (988988)

        But will they continue it when they notice that those pupils are then able to think not only about algorithms, but also about the stuff politicians tell?

        They're already taught that, for example in History (detecting bias, reliability of a source), English (reading newspapers and finding 'weasel words' [wikipedia.org], determining the intended audience of a newspaper), and probably that subject that was introduced after I finished school (politics/society/culture, I can't remember the name).

        In English we were given articles from the Daily Mail, where the teacher asked us to highlight every "may", and then cross out the whole sentence. What were we left with? Not much. We

    • Force every class in existence on them because it might teach them other skills.

      • by Tsingi (870990)

        Force every class in existence on them because it might teach them other skills.

        I doubt they will make everyone take it, although virtually everyone will have to use a computer, so maybe they should.

        • by xaxa (988988)

          Force every class in existence on them because it might teach them other skills.

          I doubt they will make everyone take it, although virtually everyone will have to use a computer, so maybe they should.

          Non-core GCSEs (taken in the year the student turns 16e) are generally optional, but perhaps the ideas will trickle down into compulsory IT lessons for younger students.

    • by Trepidity (597) <.delirium-slashdot. .at. .hackish.org.> on Friday September 16, 2011 @10:28AM (#37420014)

      Yeah, I think this is the most important part. Even if you aren't a technologist, it's a bad situation to be in the 21st century and have no understanding of how systems work, at least in principle, because you're unable to offer even commentary or suggestions about them, or think about how to interface with them, in a way that's grounded in anything approaching reality. This has sometimes been called "procedural literacy" [pdf] [psu.edu] or "computational thinking" [pdf] [luc.edu].

      • I don't think someone that is uninterested in this will even remember anything or care about doing any of that. It just seems like another way to waste time that they could be using to complete work from classes that teach things that they actually use everyday to me.

        • by Trepidity (597)

          How much of high school is useful everyday to anyone? I have never once applied the Bohr model of the atom to my daily life (and I'm even an academic researcher in the sciences), nor the writing of Victor Hugo, nor the knowledge I gained of 16th-century French kings. Several of those things are culturally interesting and may make it easier for me to read and understand other things, but hey, that's also true with knowing the basics of how a computer is programmed.

          • How much of high school is useful everyday to anyone?

            Good question. If the class teaches something that is used frequently (basic math, English, etc) by the average person, then I think it should be mandatory. Basically, things that you have a high probability of using later.

      • Even if you aren't a technologist, it's a bad situation to be in the 21st century and have no understanding of how systems work,

        I work with people in IT, programmers no less, who don't know how systems work. As soon as we gave them admin rights to install what they wanted, the amount of problems on their machines went up by a significant amount.

        You think someone who doesn't care about technology will absorb anything from these courses? All they want to know is how to send a twit or update their
        • by X0563511 (793323)

          They don't care about how system work, they just want it to work.

          Which is a problem that can be fixed if done early, which is the kind of thing these types of classes are supposed to do.

          It's 2011. Not caring how systems work is unacceptable unless you are OK with being stuck with anything outside of "blue collar" or food services type stuff. Even some traditionally blue-collar work is now becoming more and more white-collar - auto mechanics (on modern vehicles) for example. And at these ages, you really don't know what the hell you're going to end up doing, so this kind

    • by symes (835608) on Friday September 16, 2011 @10:29AM (#37420024) Journal

      This is a really good thing. As the summary notes, this will teach kids logic and thinking systematically. Knowing how to program isn't just a useful skill in the direct sense of programming things and possibly being employed that way. It also does a really good job of making one think precisely and carefully. There's also another advantage which is it helps kids appreciate that the technology around them are things they can understand and don't need to treat like they are magic.

      They are also skills that generalise and are useful elsewhere, not just in IT. I also see programming as something of a conduit - you programme something so this could help nurture interests in other areas like math.

    • This is a really bad thing. I don't need the competition in 20 years time :) Kids that have grown up on consoles and know nothing are a joy. Thank you Mario.
    • Re:Not just for jobs (Score:5, Informative)

      by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Friday September 16, 2011 @10:32AM (#37420056) Homepage

      I agree.

      I tell people all the time, a little bit of programming experience goes a long way.

      It isn't just about being a programmer by trade. You come across problems now and then in Excel that can't be solved any other way besides some VBA. Maybe you don't know VBA, but if you understand logical program flow, objects, etc... some Google will get you the rest of the syntax. My Biologist wife and I had to sit down and get her going with R. A few times in the Army I've had to process a shit-ton of text data and a perl script came in handy. A little programming knowledge has helped me out many times in normal life. I'm no programmer.

      We all probably have tons of examples where just programming literacy and understanding of systematic thinking and logical flow have come in super handy. Just learning how to abstract a problem, break it into parts, and turn it into an algorithm.... forget the code, that is educational. Kids *should* be exposed to this. It will give them skills that will serve them well later.

    • Why not teach them how to construct geometric proofs instead? And this is a serious question.

      The issue I have with teaching computer programing at such a young age is that programing languages tend to be transient. C or JAVA? A few years go it was BASIC vs. Fortran. I have had good C class that taught me theory which I use today – even though I know longer work in C. But if the kids are just learning how to hack – in the bad sense or the word – twisty rabbit warren logic type of code

      • by chthon (580889)

        That is why this [htdp.org] is an absolute must, it does not learn a language (even though it uses Scheme), it learns to think about algorithms and their design.

        • by Nursie (632944)

          Seriously?

          At GCSE level that's not really relevant. Some simple C, java or other programming skills along with an intro to computer architecture and an intro to algorithms will be enough.

          • by squizzar (1031726)

            I concur. Everyone gets stuck on what (programming) language to teach, rather than just teaching some useful fundamental skills in whatever language happens to be convenient. My Dad has a better variety of better tools in his garage than the school DT (shop or whatever else you want to call it) labs did, that didn't stop me learning how to measure things, the difference between a wasting and non-wasting process, the basic properties of woods, metals and plastics and various other things. I'm no cabinet m

      • by Tsingi (870990)

        Why not teach them how to construct geometric proofs instead? And this is a serious question.

        The issue I have with teaching computer programing at such a young age is that programing languages tend to be transient. C or JAVA? A few years go it was BASIC vs. Fortran. I have had good C class that taught me theory which I use today – even though I know longer work in C. But if the kids are just learning how to hack – in the bad sense or the word – twisty rabbit warren logic type of code – then I would think more harm than good was done.

        I think at that young age there is better ways to beef up their Cognitive skills (Chess, math - Heck – even a Jesuit priest teaching theology)

        You had be agreeing with you right up to the point where you suggested exposing children to a priest.

      • by Nursie (632944)

        Basic vs Fortran was in the 80s, I know it takes some thinking to realise how old you are, but the 80s ended over two decades ago.

        • Which was kind of my point. Why invest time to teach skills which in 20 years will be out of date? (and yes, in my mind, 20 is a few). Why not teach them skills that will not go out of date? Which brings me back to my serious question - Is programming the most effective way to instruct chrilden in logic and other core skills? And part of the answer is hour the course is designed - I am sure that a well designed Programing course will do a better job then a poorly designed math class. (I learned nothing fro

          • by WorBlux (1751716)
            Any computer skill you teach someone will likely be our of date in 20 years, and it's good for people to understand at some level how computers actually operate. But for the actual choice you only need to look out 5-8 years, as someone already in the field shouldn't have a really difficult time learning a new syntax for their algorithms. For those that don't its not like there aren't any complilers at all that will compile fortran or basic.The tools are still viable, they've just been replace by better tool
      • The issue I have with teaching computer programing at such a young age is that programing languages tend to be transient

        Languages do, but concepts don't. I learned to program at school in the '80s with BASIC, Logo, and PL/M then C, C++, and Java in the '90s. Since then I've learned very few completely new concepts from new languages. For example:

        • Erlang - actor model concurrency.
        • Go - CSP (I'd already encountered this in theory, but never in a real language)
        • Haskell - monads
        • Objective-C - a metaobject protocol.

        None of these are particularly core idea. In contrast, those first languages taught me things like flow contr

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Not just that, but being able to actually program a computer is the difference between being able to use a tool and being able to make a tool. Like, for example, a hydraulic punch. It's a hydraulic press, and it's a punch, and you put them together and you get a powerful new tool. Just being able to script enough to tie other applications together opens up whole new worlds, especially when scripting support is good (e.g. AppleScript, AREXX, or Unix scripting; the point is that all these are useful and well-

    • by daem0n1x (748565)

      As the summary notes, this will teach kids logic and thinking systematically.

      Poor kids. That will exclude them from taking a vast number of professions, like politician, lawyer, journalist, etc.

      • by WorBlux (1751716)
        I thin you underestimate a person's ability to compartmentalize. I mean these guy already have to pass a few math and science cources.
  • Too Late (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday September 16, 2011 @10:24AM (#37419946) Journal
    I did GCSE computing in 1998, and my coursework was a programming task (modelling the 3-body problem). At my school, however, I'd been taught to program aged 7. If I'd started programming aged 14, I'd have found it a lot harder. The government should be making programming a primary school activity, not leaving it to an optional course later on. Ideally, programming should be the first thing children are taught to do with computers at school - it was for me, and after that everything else is easy.
    • Computing and IT aren't the same thing, though. In computing, you did logic, sorting, programming fundamentals etc. In IT you did mail merges, formatting word processing documents, and played Chocks Away on the Acorn Arc, if you were lucky.
      • GCSE IT shouldn't exist at all. GCSEs are for academic subjects, IT is a vocational subject. There should be NVQs in IT, not GCSEs.
    • by xaxa (988988)

      I don't think GCSE Computing existed for a while. This seems to be an effort to bring it back.

      This [ocr.org.uk] is a pilot project for GCSE Computing.

  • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Friday September 16, 2011 @10:25AM (#37419962)
    I did my IT GCSE in 1999, and came out with an E at the end of it. I hadn't done any coursework at all, as it was just to mind-numbingly painful to dumb down my thinking to give the answer they wanted. The course seriously needed updating.

    I'm a network manager in local government now. Goes to show how appropriate what they taught was to the real world.
    • by Jmc23 (2353706)
      If your government IT department is anything like most countries, I'd say your failure accurately represents where you ended up in life! ;)
    • I did an A-Level in ICT. It was primarily about MS Access.
      I got an E.
      I went on to do a computer programming course at university.
      I'm now a computer games programmer (xbox 360, pc and ps3 games specifically).
      The ICT course was completely useless.

      • Correction: It was primarily about writing reports (in Word) about what they'd taught you about MS Access. I was specifically told not to hand in an Access DB file, and instead to screenshot everything.

  • by coolmadsi (823103) on Friday September 16, 2011 @10:32AM (#37420058) Homepage Journal

    I did ICT at GCSE level, and A-Level, both times the course was fairly boring. Particularly the "here is how you create some basic documents" sections. One of the modules was to create a small website - we were allowed to use Dreamweaver, but so the course was somewhat challenging I did it in notepad (got full parks for that module too).

    Once I got to University to study Computer Science, I started to learn actual interesting things, including programming (we hadn't done it at school, perhaps a little bit into Excell macros, but nothing major), but there were a lot of people in the first year of the Uni course who were struggling to learn the basic concepts, so improvement in the basics earlier on is definatly needed.

  • by _0xd0ad (1974778) on Friday September 16, 2011 @10:33AM (#37420076) Journal

    I imagine they could make a pretty interesting class in Excel if they'd move beyond formatting cells and doing simple sums and averages. They could even get into macro programming, but even without there's a lot of stuff you can do with it.

  • Back in my day, when I was bored in school, I would just ditch class to program. During that time, I developed majority of my first engine [vbgore.com]. Seriously though, I think this is a great idea. Computers are so much part of our lives these days, and will only become even more so, that everyone should know the basics. I find programming also helps you practice other important concepts, like the ability to break apart complex tasks into manageable pieces instead of curling up in a ball and crying.
  • There are the 85% of kids who will do this and benefit from logical thinking as well as a real skill. Then there are the 15% who won't cope, and might be better off learning how to use a word processor, or even just that smashing shop windows and stealing is not the best way to get a happy and fulfilling life.
    • by xaxa (988988)

      There are the 85% of kids who will do this and benefit from logical thinking as well as a real skill. Then there are the 15% who won't cope, and might be better off learning how to use a word processor, or even just that smashing shop windows and stealing is not the best way to get a happy and fulfilling life.

      The article says this is in addition to, rather than instead of, the existing IT GCSE.

  • by TechyImmigrant (175943) * on Friday September 16, 2011 @10:37AM (#37420112) Journal

    I the mid to late 80s, when I did my computer science GCEs and A levels, it was a proper computer science curriculum with computer architecture, language theory, machine code, high level languages (basic/pascal/prolog) databases etc. As with the other GCEs and A levels there was a lot of university involvement in setting the exams, so the curriculum led smoothly into the university computer science curriculum.

    So this isn't a new thing, just a return to the old thing.

  • When I started secondary school in the early 90's we had BBC Basics in our ICT suite. By the time I left we had PCs. They upgraded the computers but forgot to upgrade the teachers. Our ICT lessons consisted of training the teacher how to make text italic, how to enter data into a spreadsheet or (more frequently) how to mute the sound if he had a hangover. As a consequence none of us bothered to take ICT GCSE.
  • by xiando (770382) on Friday September 16, 2011 @10:48AM (#37420246) Homepage Journal
    I learned touch on a typewriter in grade-school and I have benefited me immensely ever since. That's one of the basics they don't but really should teach kids. Some basic bash commands would probably also be very helpful, but that requires them to switch from Wintendo in the educational systems. I never once had need for the meaningless Word lessons I was forced to take. Teaching the programming would be great, but I don't quite get why they would want to teach C or Java or something like that to _all_ children. Giving them useful basic computer skills sounds more meaningful.
  • The current ICT GCSE has been lambasted for boring kids to death with lessons on using Word and Excel, rather than teaching computer programming.

    More kids will be using Word and Excel later in life than will be coding--by orders of magnitude. Excel is only as boring as you make it (something most teachers don't understand).

    When we start making curriculums that are driven by niche interests and by what is considered "fun" or not, society suffers.

    • More kids will be using Word and Excel later in life than will be coding--by orders of magnitude.

      And if you need a class to show you how to use Word and Excel, your computer education has already failed you. And yes, I do use advanced features of each. I clicked around the menus until I found the stuff I needed.

      Which is really the difference between computer literate and computer illiterate people. I show my mother how to do something in Word, and she learns that. I sit her in front of libreoffice and she is completely confused. Because she's looking for the exact same menu option located at the e

    • by formfeed (703859)

      More kids will be using Word and Excel later in life than will be coding--by orders of magnitude. Excel is only as boring as you make it

      Yes, if we only had better teachers kids would be running around showing each other their cool spreadsheets.

      You always wanted to have a database of your dogs daily food consumption, right? Cool, I can show you how to do monthly reports. And It will be very useful for the rest of your life, trust me on that one.

  • Good to see that they are placing Word and Excel classes outside the province of "Computer" classes, probably in the realm of Business Classes as they should be. I get very upset when I see my own children in a "Computer" class learning how to use Word or Excel. It's a total waste off my kids time. Anyone who needs a class in order to use these simple apps is beyond help. Sounds like these people are at least pointed in the right direction.
  • Noooooo! This means there might actually be a generation to replace me before I retire!

    Programming is pretty much a job for life in the UK. There is currently nobody coming along to replace the existing generation of programmers that learned on the Spectrum, C64 & BBCb.

    It's quite common to see grey haired developers these days. We've got nobody under the age of 38. I employed my first great-grandfather last month.

    That said, our generation was *particularly* prolific.

  • by Fnord666 (889225)
    So instead of a GED they can now earn a BOFH?
  • The number of entries for GCSE ICT has halved in the last five years, and not because the course is insufficiently challenging or technical. The reason is that due to the league tables schools have a powerful incentive to push their students into worthless 'vocational' courses that are even easier and duller than GCSE. Making the GCSE more technically challenging will not improve this state of affairs.
  • I did a program review at one high school here in the U.S. They were teaching them to use Microsoft Excel, doing a payroll 'app' I guess you could call it. But they had to manually calculate the tax withholding, etc. I asked the teacher why they weren't showing them VBA, pretty easy, or even a basic cell formula. With a straight face the teacher told me you needed all high math for computer programming. Um no, you don't. Basic alegbra will get you pretty far. If you understand integer and modulo functions

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