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
    +5

    Comment number 23.

    Primary and secondary school kids aren't ready to be professional programmers, but teaching the basics early on is a great idea.

    Breaking a problem down into a repeatable action (loops), making decisions (conditionals), and so on can be applied anywhere, even for those that don't go on to have jobs in IT.

    Choosing the right language to teach them is not a top priority at this point.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 22.

    The biggest challenge to UK prosperity is poor foresight, 10+ years late means we have much to catch up with other economys already advanced on this path.
    It was same with UKs space program & also same with green energy with UK losing out masses of high skilled & high paid jobs, in green energy, windfarms, we are essentially an assembley line.

    One cannot lead or compete using hindsight

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 21.

    11.Snape

    There are many codes and learning the right one is key.
    ===
    If you know only one language I don't think you're a skilled coder at all. You should know, and have used, different types of languages, such as functional, imperative etc. But for kids in school, just give them a go so they can decide if it's for them or not - not all need be, or want to be, coders - it's their life.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 20.

    This sounds like a good idea. Hopefully teachers will be given full support and adequate funding will be made available. It mustn't become another good idea that is spoilt by being rushed and underfunded.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 19.

    Computer coding is a really useful skill. I was a teacher and now I am retired I volunteer for Code Club, teaching the children using the programming language Scratch. The difficulty primary school teachers have is enough time to learn. Give them time on programming courses away from their teaching and they'll learn fast.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 18.

    Well, I best start learning a new skill so I can get a different job in the future when all these "kiddie coders" start taking all the jobs as employers look for cheap labour in a saturated market. I'm 35 and paid a six-figure salary currently for computer programming. Guess those days are numbered. Think I'll take up skydiving instructing!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 17.

    As with Baskey I was programming back in the 80's as we had some BBC model Bs at primary school and my parents bought one for home.

    But as an embedded programmer I'm worried we're teaching kids the wrong things. Making a robot 'with a few lines of code' worries me. I'm using a Pi to do some data logging and I've written over 2000 lines of C and python.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 16.

    I can predict that for this to follow previous 'initiatives' in mainstream education in the truly British fashion, f < x, where f = actual funding and x = funding required.

  • rate this
    +24

    Comment number 15.

    Learning to write code not only opens up opportunities for the future, it also teaches things like logical analysis and the vital importance of accuracy.
    I did Computer Science A Level in 1985-1987 and we learnt coding back then (in Pascal and of course BBC Basic). The glory days when a spotty 15 year old could write a best selling game in his bedroom.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 14.

    No doubt this initiative will be poorly planned by Gove, but teachers will get the blame when things go wrong.

  • rate this
    +17

    Comment number 13.

    Teaching something new has to start somewhere.

    The kids being taught today will be the teachers of tomorrow.

    Shame we had to wait this long to get the ball rolling, like @11 said. Other countries are way ahead of the game.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 12.

    If this is the future and so important why are teachers today, people of my generation who grew up with the first household computers in the 80s when programming was all the rage, bereft of any knowledge on the subject? Did we drop the ball or what?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 11.

    There are many codes and learning the right one is key. We can all learn languages but it's picking one that will be of use and earn you a living. Reality is India is streets ahead of us with coding.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 10.

    Programming is a dying profession in the UK. Not because of a lack of skills (there are many unemployed programmers), rather those who need the skills of a programmer would rather pay less to someone outside the country. Doesn't help that there seem to be plenty of computing / IT related degree courses which teach programming to a very limited level.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 9.

    Kids are quite capable of teaching themselves, just give them the computers[1]. Using teachers that have just been taught about coding is not a good idea, IMO.


    [1] http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud.html

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 8.

    Getting the teachers up to speed is essential. I am a Code Club volunteer and delivering the content is only half of the task, with confidence and enthusiasm is just as important. This can only be achieved if the teachers know and are happy what they are being asked to do. Open the door to coding for the children with enthusiasm and energy and they will find the rest themselves.

  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 7.

    No money in programming. It's a third world skill set these days and that won't change with the number of computer grads being churned out by the developing economies. What kids need to learn is actual electronics, robotics and how to hold a soldering iron without getting a second degree burn. Smart kids know this already. The future is outside the screen.

  • rate this
    +13

    Comment number 6.

    Great idea

    I did very basic 'coding' on a BBC computer in the late 80s when i was in primary school, I loved it.

    Its just a shame we did nothing in secondary school.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 5.

    Maybe we could send the BBC's technology "journalists" back to school so they can learn what bits and bytes are.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 4.

    there's a genuine skillset shortage in IT for assorted reasons : giving more access to the basic skills in coding may help fill those skills.

 

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