Government backs classroom coding lessons, but do tech experts agree?

The government has admitted that ICT education needs reform. Is coding in the classroom the answer?

Today, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport admitted that the current ICT programme in schools is insufficiently rigorous and in need of reform.

The government was responding to a report calling for an overhaul of computer science education in schools. The Next Gen report, first published in October, argued that the UK could be a global hub for the video games and special effects industries if there was a shake-up of the education system.

The Next Gen campaign makes many suggestions to make the current curriculum more relevant for today’s technological environment, the most talked-about being the possible introduction of coding into the curriculum.

“Coding is the new Latin,” says Alex Hope, co-author of Next Gen. “We need to give kids a proper understanding of computers if they’re to compete for all kinds of jobs.”

Google, Microsoft and other leading names in tech have vouched their support for the Next Gen campaign.

So should the UK adopt the changes suggested and start teaching code in schools?

The risks of falling behind in technology as a country seem to suggest that some curriculum change is definitely needed.

Said the government press office today: “The government recognises that many of the skills demanded by employers are equally desired in the much wider economy, from business software, telecoms and social media to financial services, fighting cyber-crime and designing the next advances in aviation.”

The BBC reported that the number of students opting to study computer science has fallen from 5 per cent to 3 per cent with only 13,600 school leavers applying to study the subject last year. Also rather worryingly 87 per cent of those where male.

In light of the discussion we thought we’d ask some of London’s tech experts whether or not they agree with the proposed changes.

The results were mixed, but it would seem that our respondents don’t believe that the answer lies simply in coding.

Gregory Kris, CEO, Decibel Music Systems Limited

“I don’t think it benefits everyone to know how to code. It is a particular skill, like building a house – not everybody needs to know how to do it. Children should have a basic understanding of how [code] works, but if they all learn to code, by the time they finish school the code will have changed anyway.

“The key for me is innovation. We are never going to compete in price with coders of the sub-continent. I have always advocated that good coding doesn’t make a good developer. You need to have commercial understanding, know what your options are and how to develop a product in the market place.

“We need to make computer science something that makes your mother proud. Look at the situation in Israel: mothers want their children to grow up not to be lawyers, but entrepreneurs.

“We need to make it a desirable job to have. We need to make sure that there is funding available for entrepreneurs. We need to give our entrepreneurs a better standing in society.

“That will make computer science a more desirable subject to study [rather than enforcing it in school]. Nobody studies psychology before they do a psychology degree [but psychology is still popular].

“As for attracting women to study computer science, I think there is an absence of female role models in the sector. There are plenty of female entrepreneurs; they need to reach out to the next generation. It is something that is happening in the gaming sector as more and more women become gamers, and that is a good pointer as to how we might make computer science more desirable to women. That development has been organic.”

Chris Alner, managing director - UK, Massive Interactive

“If there is to be evolution of the curriculum then it is important that it is up to date. This is not a question of pandering to the latest fads in teaching methodology, but [rather] ensuring that our future workforce has the right skills to compete in the workplace, both nationally and internationally.

“Clearly there should be a rounded education to produce rounded individuals and this should not be designed to pass over a ‘classical’ education. Certainly an overview of the requirements and options within areas of digital employment should be included at all levels of secondary education so that there can be increased focus on tertiary [post-school] education.”

Robert Higginson, partner, Par Equity

“With a little exposure to the way high school computer education is delivered, I certainly think there is room for improvement in terms of the method of delivery and and scope [of secondary school computer science education], which seems too heavily focused on training students on how to use Microsoft Office applications. Clearly that is an important skill to have, but hardly the most inspiring of introductions to fascinating world of informatics, of which computer science is part.

“However, introducing coding [as a stand-alone subject] as part of the curriculum is far too narrow.  

“I believe young people should be introduced to Technology & Innovation, which will take in advances in energy, bio-engineering and often the young start-ups that are being set-up to commercialise the science.”

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