Are teachers ready for the coding revolution?

 

There's a revolution coming to schools across England, one designed to transform a new generation's prospects in the digital age. Come September, a change to the curriculum means the study of computing - and specifically coding - will be mandatory across all state primary and secondary schools.

That also means that something like 16,000 ICT teachers in secondary schools and more than 160,000 primary school teachers face a huge challenge - getting ready to teach the new discipline in time.

Where better to assess their readiness than BETT, the annual education technology fair. I spent yesterday in the vast halls of the Excel exhibition centre talking to teachers, children and even Education Secretary Michael Gove, about what the arrival of coding in the curriculum might mean.

To see two primary school pupils, Ruby and Sienna, working together to make a Raspberry Pi-controlled vehicle move around the floor with a few lines of code, was to understand what's possible. They admitted that coding could be difficult at first - but both were having a lot of fun.

They were benefitting from the work of one of an army of enthusiasts now descending on schools to help prepare for the coding revolution. Tom Stacey, a PhD student, invented the PiBot, the vehicle the girls were controlling. "It's when you combine hardware - something that they can actually touch - with writing lines of code that it actually comes alive," he told me.

Meanwhile, teachers at BETT seemed determined to be upbeat about the arrival of coding. Jonathan Furness, a primary school head teacher, admitted it was "a big ask - we're very much up against it".

With every teacher at primary level having to teach computing, there would need to be resources for staff development, and consultants would be coming into school to help. But he said, "our children are revved up" about coding and the teachers would come with them.

Gary Spracklen, head of digital at an academy in Dorset, said the key was to deal with the fear of learning a whole new language. "Everyone thinks it's a huge step onto a high level - but the message is we need to break it down and start small."

And that was echoed by Carrie-Ann Philbin, a great evangelist for inventive ways of using technology in the classroom, who's just joined Raspberry Pi: "It sounds like a steep learning curve," she admitted when I asked whether older teachers might be intimidated by coding. "But those big words like algorithm and data, when you actually dig deeper you see they're not scary."

So - what of the man who has ordered this revolution in classrooms? Michael Gove told me he accepted that a lot was being asked of teachers. But he insisted, "We're giving teachers all the support they need". He praised "outstanding teachers who understand and get computer science", and said they would be helping colleagues. "And we're making sure we get more talented people from the computing industry who think about teaching and are attracted into the classroom," he said.

And he said there was no alternative to making this work if we didn't want the Googles and Microsofts of tomorrow to be created elsewhere. "Schools will be better places and children will be better prepared for the future if they understand the language of the future - and that is computer programming."

From cabinet ministers pushing a policy and every kind of business promoting their products, to evangelical computing teachers, BETT attracts those with a determinedly optimistic view of the role technology can play in schools.

But in the real world, cynics will point at initiatives from language laboratories to electronic whiteboards to classrooms packed with obsolete desktop computers that have left many teachers underwhelmed. Will the drive to get children coding be different? And will schools be ready? If you're a teacher with a view on your own or your school's readiness for this revolution, please get in touch.

 
Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 243.

    @56 "These days computers can code themselves - so why are we raising a generation of robotic pupils who can code?"

    A computer cannot code itself. They are no more than dumb machines that follow instructions

    A sorting program does not "know" that it is sorting a list of items. Read about some of the research that Alan Turing and many others did on this stuff.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 242.

    240 Paul,

    I agree with you about COBOL.

    I have not touched the language after learning the syntax of simple calculations became, for example,

    MULTIPLY x BY y GIVING z.

    This was and is a turn-off and still wouldn't touch the language.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 241.

    204. razbrazz
    I'd say we are at a point where basic computer science should be on the GCSE curriculum, the problem is what subject do we sacrifice for it?"

    That's easy - ICT.

    ICT is learning how to use Word & Excel. The amazing thing my son is learning for the next half-term is 'basic formulas in Excel'. He's in year 8, and they're going to take 5 weeks teaching "=A3+B3" and making it bold.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 240.

    239. Major_Tom
    There are jobs requiring Pascal, FORTRAN or COBOL on a well known jobsite at the moment."

    If you are a good COBOL programmer, you can pretty much set your own salary. There is a huge shortage of them!

    It's still widely used (in legacy programs), but no one learns it any more. So, the number of people who can maintain/update the programs is shrinking.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 239.

    221 PunchDrunkAgain,

    Yes, I remember those languages. FORTRAN is still being used and is now at FORTRAN2008. There are jobs requiring Pascal, FORTRAN or COBOL on a well known jobsite at the moment.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 238.

    @198, I think you missed my point, in the early Mid 80's computers started to become more frequent in schools, Primary school kids started to be taught programming with logo and turtles, but they think of it as programming, they just made a robot move. But to draw a picture they had to plan the instructions and understand angles etc.

    I agree the hard-core programming can wait until high school.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 237.

    236.Richard Spence
    It may be fun and useful too, and I'm all for it at secondary school, but at primary, time spent doing this would be time sacrificed from something else and because primary tends to concentrate mainly on the core subjects, I'm not sure it would be justifiable. With many teachers who don't know much IT, it could end up being a dumbed- down waste of time if not done properly.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 236.

    235. ConnorMacLeod

    trust me a few kids creating some things in lego mindstorms is great fun and the lessons learned will apply for a life time.

    Again you miss my point that this is not just for computer specialists just as basic science is not just for doctors.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 235.

    230.Richard Spence
    expose people to how computer software works so they can dream up the services of our internet age.


    All very good of course, and there is should be a place in secondary school for those that choose that path. But as someone pointed out, anything IT related that kids learn at primary will be obselete long before they graduate, such is the pace of improving technology...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 234.

    Why not teach a proper language? The British have an awful reputation for being monoglots...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 233.

    As a former Head of ICT and National Ambassador for Computer Science with the Teaching Agency I’m a huge advocate of the coding revolution in schools. The challenge we will face will be getting the computing experts and professionals into education. My question is how will Gove engage schools with UK IT companies to help develop the curriculum and train teachers?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 232.

    218.doug

    I'd rather earn £12k and not have to live in the south east.


    Another option would be to head to Aberdeen where the oil and gas industry is booming and people with good science backgrounds are always in demand. I'd imagine you'd find something good there too. With qualifications like yours, you'd be crazy to settle for 12K a year !

  • Comment number 231.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 230.

    229. ConnorMacLeod

    and that is the "old school" thinking that this initiative is trying to change. Not to create computer programmers but expose people to how computer software works so they can dream up the services and business of our internet age. Not code it themselves but to understand enough to imagine. I am sorry you don't understand this.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 229.

    225.Richard Spence
    You keep on talking about computers as tools ...


    You STILL don't get it !!!
    That is EXACTLY what about 90% of the workforce who use computers think of them - tools to do a job, they familiarise themselves with the software they need and get on with it. The other 10% are the IT professionals who have a deeper understanding and interest and handle the technical stuff.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 228.

    226 : WinLocker

    The WinLocker code takes over the login system for Windows XP by using a few pokes & prods at the registry and core file system.

    As the name suggests it LOCKS out the user...

    38 (THIRTY EIGHT!) Lines of coding wizardry to render an entire OS DEAD!


    Tell me that's not impressive!

    And there's worse, there are programs that run totally invisibly to the user using root commands!

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 227.

    218.doug

    I'd rather earn £12k and not have to live in the south east.


    Here's some free advice. We live in a global economy now, if you're not prepared to move where the jobs are then you'll go nowhere fast. You're obviously unhappy about not finding work, yet when I offer a solution you dismiss it. Seems you want a job, but only on your own terms ?

  • Comment number 226.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 225.

    219. ConnorMacLeod

    "I understand your point very well".

    Do you really? You keep on talking about computers as tools as if all we need to know is a bit of excel. This seems to totally miss my point. By miles.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 224.

    Once again, Gove wants us to move forward-oh, wait, my teachers taught me some coding at primary and secondary schools forty years ago. So wait, Gove wants to try and restore educational standards. No wonder he's being opposed. Again.

 

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