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Programming Education

Should Everybody Learn To Code? 387

Posted by Soulskill
from the only-the-ones-who-don't-develop-bejeweled-clones dept.
theodp writes "In July, the Association for Computing Machinery announced it was partnering with Code.org, with ACM contributing funding and its Director of Public Policy to Code.org in a push to 'ensure that every K-12 student in the US has the opportunity to study computer science.' Interestingly, joining others questioning the conventional Presidential wisdom that everybody-must-get-code is the Communications of the ACM, which asks in its February issue, Should Everybody Learn to Code? By the way, Code.org is bringing its Hour of Code show to the UK in March. The new National Curriculum for England that is to be taught in all primary and secondary schools beginning in September includes a new emphasis on Computer Science curricula, said to have been sparked by a speech given by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt in 2011."
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Should Everybody Learn To Code?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 02, 2014 @09:43AM (#46133503)

    I'm torn on this issue as someone who works in a sales org but has learned how to code/is in a continual process of getting better at it.

    On the positive side of things, it's absolutely amazing how much time can be saved by extremely trivial code. For example, I had a client who needed to check something like 800 URL's for a given result on their page. They were chunking out ranges of the URLs to give to a team of people to do the task before we told them to put down the crack pipe and give us 10 minutes. A quick Python script looking for said element on each URL in the list dealt with that task nicely.

    On the negative side-- the one thing learning code has taught me is that I'll never be that good at it. I had to bash my brains out on a table for many, many weeks, just to understand basic concepts like lists and arrays, and am only NOW really grasping the concepts of classes/why I should care. My code is sloppy, works well only really when run by me, and my ability to read other code/make modifications is limited to say the least. I stuck with learning code ONLY because I truly enjoyed it, and even then, after about 6-7 years of working at it, remain pretty mediocre.

    In short, I'll never be a very good coder. I had to work INSANELY hard to get as good as I am, and I only did so because I genuinely love coding (even if I'll never be a savant with it). Trying to force people to go through that sounds like bad news bears, and I just can't see it working on any level. On the other hand, I get the appeal, because really everyone benefits. I get along great with our engineers because I can genuinely speak with them at a level that is more attuned to what they are thinking, and I can legitimately translate between the two orgs better than they could without me. It should be noted that we also have some rare engineers who can cross over to our world and love them for it.

    So in short, I get why people want this to happen. Forcing it however is a recipe for disaster.

  • Re:Certainly (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 02, 2014 @10:08AM (#46133635)

    Ah! that's an interesting point..

    Do Phones run on magic? To a lot of people they do, do you know how each component interacts with the others? Explain how a battery works and how it provides power to the device to allow two way communication on a global scale. I have an older boss (In his late 80's) He truly believes that little gremlins move images on screen, he can't comprehend the hardware and software interaction involved in the modern PC, so to him it is like magic.

    Now we get to the interesting bit, as technology advances more and more people don't understand the base level of "Tech" involved in higher level computing eg, You know how to install a motherboard but few people can troubleshoot/build one as time progresses this will become more and more commonplace.

    I'll use an extreme example of what may happen using an example from the warhammer series, It's 43rd millenium technology has advanced to a point where we have learnt far too much that the fundamentals of our technology are unknown, a cult (the mechaninium) has grown up to dominate higher and lower level technology, simple tasks become a religion and rituals evolve involving the simplest of tasks (eg turning on a switch)

    How many non-technical people do you know that provide corporal punishment to their computers when they fail to work quickly enough, we know it has no effect but they believe that such actions are useful.

    Magic is a dangerous think as it can easily turn into worship.

  • Re:clickbait (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Sunday February 02, 2014 @10:53AM (#46133875)

    I do have kids in school. The school places decently in national rankings, and I'm often alarmed by the quality of the kids' instruction. I think the GP is somewhat on the mark. For example, I've seen the kids taught to develop powerpoint presentations, where the emphasis was on the visual aspects of the presentation, rather than on the soundness or validity of their arguments. I've seen this even at the highschool level.

    I don't have a good sense as to whether it's better or worse than when I went to school, because I'm not viewing both from the same perspective. But I do see a big gap between the education my kids are getting, and the education I wish they have.

    Perhaps my expectations regarding kids' teachability are unrealistic (e.g., that they have longer attention spans and more interest than they really do). But I am sad that my employment situation hasn't allowed me the time to home-school them. I know they're capable of far more than is being asked of them.

  • Re:clickbait (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Oligonicella (659917) on Sunday February 02, 2014 @11:16AM (#46134007)

    And it happens tom that learn to code can be a fantastic tool, probably the best, to achieve that goal.

    Some of the worst logic and most fragmented display of problem solving I have ever seen in my life was produced by people who knew how to code so I disagree, learning to code does nothing by itself.

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Sunday February 02, 2014 @12:47PM (#46134453)

    All right, but let's expand that a bit. Should every engineer know calculus?

    I was required to take four semesters of calculus in college. During my 30 year career in engineering, I have never, not once, used anything beyond the first semester. When anything else comes up (which is rare), I just look it up in a table of integrals, use a tool like Mathematica, or solve it numerically. The hard part is never "doing the math" but rather figuring out how to construct the mathematical model of physical reality in the first place. Math class doesn't help much there. Knowing how to to integrate an equation doesn't do much good if it is the wrong equation.

    On the other had, programming has been absolutely critical to everything I have done. I have probably spent 20,000 hours doing that. Yet in college, I was just taught how to invoke the Fortran compiler and given a photocopy of the basic syntax. Everything else was self-taught.

    At least for me, there was a vast difference between what I was taught, and the skills that were actually useful.

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Sunday February 02, 2014 @01:41PM (#46134717)

    "Should every student in high school learn what calculus is and what you can use it for?" to which the answer would be "yes".

    Well, I would say the answer is "no". But either way, that is an answer to the wrong question. The question is not "Should schools teach X?" but rather "What should we remove from the curriculum to make room for X?" There are a lot of things that could be taught, and saying "everything is important" is the same as saying that nothing is important. For instance, at my son's school the kids in grades 4-6 can type their assignments, instead of writing them out with pen or pencil. Several parents asked the school to provide a touch typing class so the kids learn to type correctly. The school said the schedule was full, so if typing was going in, then something had to go out. After some back and forth discussion, the school decided to dump cursive writing, and replace it with classes on touch typing. That seems like a big improvement to me, since most of these kids will never again in their life write a letter or paper with a pen, but will spend much of their lives in front of a kayboard.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 02, 2014 @08:25PM (#46136645)

    Most states are making CS count as a *choice* among mathematics or science courses. Many states' curricula now require 4 years of mathematics or science. Here's a more relevant question: What's more useful to more people: to take Calculus as a senior in high school, or taking AP CS?

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