Proper coding to be taught in schools

Current ICT curriculum to be replaced by classes on coding

This time last year the Government was considering making ICT a non-compulsory subject, but it has now been announced that the ICT curriculum will be replaced with computer science lessons in which youngsters learn programming skills.

Frontend developer Anna Debenham has campaigned to bring about a change in IT education, and is pleased by the news. "I studied the current ICT curriculum for GCSE and A-Level, and I felt frustrated that the whole thing was basically a glorified Microsoft Office. It was so basic and outdated that I often thought it would be better off not being taught at all, but kids aren't as computer literate as we'd like to think. A million in the UK don't even have computer access at home, so taking it out of the curriculum altogether means many slip through the net without the basic skills they need in most workplaces. That's why I'm delighted with the news that ICT is finally going to be replaced with a new computer science programme and given such a high status.

"This would support subjects such as science, maths and engineering, and I hope when it's combined with something young people can relate to, such as physics engines in games, it will help them progress in all these subjects. They're not all going to want to be computer programmers, but if it's done right, they'll be more computer literate and hopefully won't be turned off the industry altogether."

In the curriculum

Creative coder Seb Lee-Delisle pointed out that coding used to be taught as part of the curriculum, but was removed: "I learnt to code aged 11 on a BBC Micro in 1983, so it's astonishing that up to now, we've actually gone backwards instead of forwards in terms of teaching programming."

He's optimistic about the recent progress: "I'm really excited that there seems to be a real momentum building around learning to code in 2012, and I'm sure that the proliferation and easy access of JavaScript is contributing to this. Add to this other exciting projects such as Processing, Arduino and the Raspberry PI, and it's such an inspiring time to learn code.

"Now we've got the first step – making the decision to ditch these pointless IT classes, and now the next challenge is how to engage students. What's the point in playing with variables to just see what new data your variables contain? Wouldn't it be more fun to see how we can use those to draw and animate? It's how I learnt and visual coding is at the core of what I teach now."

There's some concern over the lack of people qualified to teach the proposed course: the Guardian reports that of the 28,000 teachers who qualified in 2010, only three had a computer-related degree.

Fortunately, the community is willing to pitch in.

Debenham, who teaches coding workshops to teenagers, issued this rallying cry: "For this to succeed, now is the perfect time for the community to get more involved in education and make sure teachers are properly equipped to deliver engaging lessons. Let's have our say in next week's consultation so that this new curriculum doesn't become a joke like the last one."

UX expert Graham McAllister tweeted:

@grmcall Listening to @ian_livingstone on Radio 4 talk about the state of the UK's IT edu in schools makes me want to volunteer to teach programming

The Radio 4 program is here.

Lee-Delisle will also be contributing: "This year I'll be preparing some free resources to help non-coders (and hopefully schools) get started. So if there are any teachers out there who need some guidance, please get in touch!"