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Education Programming United Kingdom

Reading, Writing, Ruby? 292

itwbennett writes "A BBC article outlines a push to make software programming a basic course of study for British schoolchildren in hopes that Britain could become a major programming center for video games and special effects. Can earlier exposure to better technology courses reverse the declining enrollment in university computer science courses and make coding cool?"
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Reading, Writing, Ruby?

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  • Needs Revision. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by masternerdguy ( 2468142 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:29PM (#38198382)
    Assuming they do this the way public schools in the USA teach programming, don't bother. They've managed to suck all creativity and wonder from the process by making every activity copying code from a textbook without teaching the theory behind it, or mentioning the possible applications. I've seen so many people take high school level programming courses and come out not knowing how to program. This isn't because they're dumb, this is because it is taught in the same way you make someone memorize a poem they don't want to read. College courses are fine, but public school courses need revision. Creativity and real world applications of programming concepts is completely missing there.
  • by Fished ( 574624 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `yrogihpma'> on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:31PM (#38198416)
    Information Science is a basic science, like any other, and in our world has a lot more immediate practical applications. It should be taught. Why can my son, very bright, in the 8th grade, tell me the layers of the atmosphere and the earths crust and evolution and basic physics, but can't tell me the difference between a bit and a byte? That's crazy.
  • by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:41PM (#38198508)

    With a good teacher there is no need for whiz bang fancy pants hook'em when their your graphics.

    They need good teachers. Invest the money in training/sceening teachers properly. Cirriculum and all that other stuff is fluff from the people that want to sell text books and hardware.

  • by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:42PM (#38198518)

    Especially if paired with more math.

    I was lucky; my dad taught me BASIC and algebra in grade school. I was too young to realize that math was supposed to be hard and un-fun; as a partial result, all these years later, I make a good living off both.

  • by RobinEggs ( 1453925 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:43PM (#38198520)
    I was under the impression that computer science was a bubble degree: the latest degree that people with any shred of scientific acumen and no clue where they wanted to go in life acquired as their ticket to an upper-middle class paycheck. So what's surprising and disastrous about the bubble bursting? Isn't that what bubbles do?

    I always hear people on slashdot bitching that half the youngsters getting computer science degrees today are incompetent code monkeys at best, and yet then I read stories the next week about the problem of declining interest or falling numbers in comp-sci education.

    Which one is the truth? Shouldn't you be happy to see enrollments decline? Aren't you glad to see fewer incompetent, bobble-headed lemmings graduating and going out to make a bad name for all of you self-proclaimed 'competent' computer scientists?
  • by cheekyjohnson ( 1873388 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:50PM (#38198574)

    Why can my son, very bright, in the 8th grade, tell me the layers of the atmosphere and the earths crust and evolution and basic physics

    Pay that no mind. I'm sure he'll forget all of that by next year.

  • by j. andrew rogers ( 774820 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @12:01AM (#38198650)

    Say what? Is this what average people think programmers and software engineers do? Do they think the kids won't catch on that the reality does not look anything like that?

    I have nothing against programming as a part of standard education. It is likely beneficial on multiple levels, not just because it teaches a useful skill but because it forces you to reason about and analyze systems in a somewhat rigorous way.

    My issue is that they are apparently faking the real rewards at a very superficial level which generates little value in practice. You won't train a generation of great computer scientists by doing a bait and switch, and history suggests that really great computer scientists are rarely motivated by their ability to do parlor tricks for the adoring masses. Like with many other technical disciplines, the deep elegance that makes it rewarding requires long and serious study that most of society will never really appreciate except in a very indirect way.

  • Re:Needs Revision. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tastecicles ( 1153671 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @12:12AM (#38198722)

    I know precisely what you mean. I almost went insane when I did ECDL (just for the piece of paper that said "I know how to switch a computer on"), and after several years of Wordperfect, then Lotus Office, Star Office, then OpenOffice, I was faced with Microsoft Office 2000 and thought to myself "What the fuck is this messy shitpile I've got to work with?". Had to take everything I'd learned about decent interfaces and useful scripting and practically forget it all as I was forced to work with the hammer and chisel that tried to pass itself off as commercial-grade software.

    Luckily I could get back to OOo when I took subsequent courses and the funny thing is, the course administrators couldn't tell.

  • Why not... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kenh ( 9056 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @12:22AM (#38198764) Homepage Journal

    Why not just require every student study engineering, so that England can become an engineering leader? It's an equally simplistic proposal to solve a problem as the "require everyone to study something only a few will ever work with to solve a vaugely-defined non-existant problem"...

  • Re:Needs Revision. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Piranhaa ( 672441 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @12:28AM (#38198798)

    It's not just high school programming that's like this (at least where I'm from). This is happening in post-secondary education.

    I took Java EE - "Enterprise Edition" quite recently. We learned how to make enterprise grade web applications... Web forms with database back-ends.

    Now, I have a decent programming background (C, shell scripts, and php mostly). Lets just say I can't remember the first thing on how to reproduce anything that was taught in that class. It was all copying and pasting code blobs and lots of "s/oldword/newword", even for our midterm and final exams. Unfortunately they try to make those classes as easy as possible for everyone, but nobody truly learns anything. And fucks over the people who actually would like to learn something. The Java 101 class I took before taught me at least 100x more.

    For reference, I have to get my diploma in order to continue working with the current employer I'm with. While there are some things I do learn from these classes, the majority of it I already know.

  • Re:shop class (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kenh ( 9056 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @12:35AM (#38198836) Homepage Journal

    And be just as optional. Requiring a student to study something like shop or programming they aren't interested in and will likely never do anything with outside of class will ruin it for everyone else as the teachers will need to "dumb-down" the class to drag these folks along, causing the more interested students to become frustrated with the pace of the class.

  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @01:18AM (#38199102)

    That's actually not true. Teaching tends to be somewhat cyclical over the last few years there have been a lot of teachers retiring that were hired during the 60s and 70s.

    Higher salaries definitely would help, if they're going to continue to stretch the school year out the salaries are going to have to increase to accommodate for the fact that teachers can't have a second job during the summer like they used to. Plus, with increasing demands to keep their teaching certificates there really needs to be more money for the increased workload. In real dollars the pay is fine, but it's all that extra work load that happens outside of class time that needs to be addressed.

    As for better and lesser, the issue there is one of certification, we could have better teachers if we paid more. The main reason is that it's hard to justify becoming a teacher when the standards keep increasing without additional support and without additional pay. Typically you're looking at a bachelors plus a teaching certificate and then on top of that you're looking at additional endorsements and certificates.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @02:39AM (#38199532)

    First and foremost, programming isn't for everyone. I had to learn this the hard way, by many frustrating experiences of trying to teach people what is natural for me. Some, actually most, people just don't make good programmers. Yes, you can teach them how to do it, but they'll never be able to come up with sensible code themselves. They will know the functions and commands, but they will never grasp the mindset necessary. They will eventually maybe get the how, but never the why. And that simply isn't enough. That way you get rote programmers who will spend their time hunting for code someone else wrote and do some crappy copy/paste programming job. The only thing you accomplish is that this kind of "programmer" will muscle into the work force, push salaries down to the point where even people who could do some great programming stop aiming for the trade and would rather spend their paid hours in some idiotic number pushing job, simply because it's better paid. Like, say, me turning to IT security management rather than IT security development. I'm a far worse security manager than I was in secdev. But it's better paid. WAY better paid.

    Then, coding IS already cool. For those interested in coding. I spend my spare time coding now, think I'd do it if I didn't think it's cool and it's fun? And you'll never make it cool for people who don't get an orgasmic rush from nifty code that works, from an optimization that shaves off 20% of runtime, they don't care. They don't bother. They will create code that "does somehow" what it's supposed to do to get over it. For them, it's not a passion but a burden. You get the kind of output that you get from anyone who has to do work he doesn't really enjoy, the one with the least effort necessary.

    And finally, to rephrase the first paragraph and explain why people would rather go for BA majors than for engineering: Salaries. The crappiest BA number pusher gets more money than the best IT engineer. People follow the money, it's that simple. And as long as it's better paid to administrate than to actually do something productive, this is where people will go.

  • Re:Needs Revision. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @03:18AM (#38199674) Homepage

    Programming isn't something that should be started in High School. Programming should be started in elementary school at the same time as math. You wouldn't expect to raise someone until High School on nothing but English Lit and PE and expect them to jump straight into Calculus in High School. Similarly, you can't expect that students will ambiently absorb the background needed to program well.

    They've got to start programming simple things when they're young and their brain is still forming.

  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @05:28AM (#38200118)
    Bits and bytes (well, bits anyway) are the ONLY feasible implementation of digital logic for the foreseeable future. Good Grid, man, have you ever tried to do anything useful in trinary? Good luck. Theoretically it's perfectly workable, but honestly I don't think humans were built to think that way.

    I do agree, however, that if a cheaper (not just workable) way were found to make the internal workings trinary, it is likely that it would be adopted, strictly for internal use. The interface to the machine would still be in powers of 2.

    Still, because of the brain-twisting aspects (if you are used to binary) of trinary would prevent its widespread adoption. I thing manufacturers would wait for quaternary to come around.

    Of course, then you have qubits, which are none of the above...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @07:05AM (#38200460)

    That is quite a cynical view of higher education. What do you regard as a "serious goal in life"? An economic one?
    Maybe things are different here in Europe, but in my experience, there is a substantial percentage of people doing CS out of genuine enthusiasm for the field. I don't see how being around bright people for a few years has no intrinsic value. I'd go as far as saying that it does make you better in the sense that you come in contact with ideas and concepts you wouldn't have seen in a trade school, as they - shockingly - cannot be monetized directly.
    Of course, many of the same kind of people tend to choose jobs in research and education. I sometimes suspect that there might even be a little more to life than birth -> work -> death.

  • Re:Needs Revision. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @07:40AM (#38200578) Journal
    We had lessons when I was 7 using Logo to teach geometry. It involved writing programs to demonstrate various shapes and learning about what happened if you changed the angles. Simply playing with Logo and seeing how to draw various things using just lines and angles is a great introduction to both programming and geometry.
  • Re:so what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @10:47AM (#38202024)

    I find that, in any profession, there are very excellent people who do the job because they love it and there are other excellent people who do it because it pays well. I feel like you need both kinds of people.

    Incidentally, there are also really bad people who do it because they love it, and there are plenty of mediocre people who do it for the money. Those people give both groups negative associations.

    As for money, it is true that one can be very happy in life with the basics covered. It is also true that more money insulates you from disruptive events... if a new roof only costs a month of take-home pay, you are in much better shape than someone who has to scrimp for a few years to pay off the loan they took out for the new roof. I wouldn't want to give up too much time for money, but I also won't discount the value of more money. Even marriages are statistically more stable if money is not a recurring problem.

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein