Viewpoint: Changing the curriculum won’t be enough to get kids to code | BBC Technology News

I came across this piece by Emma Mulqueeny who I know better as the user @hubmum from when I used to use Twitter. Back in 2009 I participated in her young persons’ computer programming weekend, Young Rewired State, designed to stick it to the government by showing what young people are capable of doing if they have access to openly available data. It was fun to spend three days in Google’s London headquarters, writing code.

While I am not really up-to-date, I imagine this article is in response to the fact that movements are finally being made in bringing the school ICT curriculum (quite literally) into the 21st century by introducing things like programming and reducing the amount of time spent on things that your average modern teenager already knows how to do.

The thought that school ICT should be equipping pupils with an understanding of how networked computer systems work is absolutely right. The idea is that pupils can make sense of those systems that they come across with ever-increasing frequency in the modern world, so that they are rather less likely to fall into danger and traps and exploitation because they don’t understand how data moves around. People need to understand backups, and where their data is when they use certain services, and what aspects of their computing are local and which are stored somewhere else. Learning some basic concepts in computer programming is quite obviously the way to go about this. Then school ICT provides both an understanding to live a better life, and the beginnings of the theoretical study of things like computer science in the future, exactly what school curriculums are supposed to do.

Mulqueeny errs in being so willing to endorse social networking websites, and in emphasising the link that she sees between these and independent learning, driven by the vast volumes of material available online for people wanting to learn how to program computers. She says

Does it matter that the lesson was delivered by YouTube? The classroom becoming the place where pupils come to share and show what they have learned - a vibrant place with teachers there to curate the classroom. Peer-to-peer learning in true fashion.

Well yes, it matters a heck of a lot that a the lesson was delivered as a lecture rather than a lesson. These are school pupils, not university students: it’s not yet time for totally independent learning, which will only engage a tiny fraction anyway. The reason for schools blocking sites like Facebook and teaching in a traditional way is that you’ve got to drag people out of their ordinary lives, to a certain extent, in order to give them an opportunity to reflect on them. Endorse things like Facebook 100% by running all your teaching through such things, and the pupils become better consumers from the point of view of the large companies, rather than savvier consumers from the point of view of their own interests.

On a related note my old philosophy teacher Paul was recently discussing with me a new idea he has had for how he thinks his R.E. and P.S.H.E. lessons ought to be directed. He thinks that these lessons ought to be an exercise in critical theory: taking a look at the society all the pupils are embedded very deeply in, and applying some criticism. This thought is similar to what I say above about temporarily removing pupils from the world that Mulqueeny wants to keep them in.

The Internet is changing a lot of things, and schools aren’t teaching the right things for our young adults to be adequately equipped to understand how that new world fits together. But embedding them in its consumerism and seeing what the create is very different to giving them a proper education.