Who’s teaching our kids to code?

So I just saw this article tweeted by @ukiekim and written by @calflyn. Admittedly having been written in October 2012 it’s a little bit old but still relevant. The first picture caption I spotted was:

Computer programming: It has fallen to the industry itself to step into the breach, and provide support for those keen to qualify for a career in IT.

Ok. Great. That sentence basically says to all Computing teachers in the UK “hey, you’re so crap at your job that we can replace you with someone else on a voluntary basis for a few hours a week”.

Is this really a good thing to say? Is it even true?

1. Some schools are already teaching programming and doing a damn good job
Yes, it’s true. News articles mysteriously fail to notice the vast amounts of good teachers and good schools already offering GCSE or A-Level Computing. According to the Guardian’s data, 3809 students sat A-Level Computing in 2012 – and considering classes are not usually very big, that’s a fair amount of schools. There was no data on GCSE Computing as it’s a new qualification but I would estimate many thousands of students will sit that examination this year. We’re here, we’re doing it. Some of us even have Computer Science degrees.

2. Running a club is not teaching
So us teachers are doing such a poor job that an IT pro has to come in after school once a week to do the real work to teach the kids in the UK who are being left behind and held back by their dreadful teachers. I hate to break it to you – this isn’t teaching. This is cherry picking students who are motivated and interested and showing them how to do something they want to do. If all of teaching was like this, everyone would want to be a teacher. It’s like the grandparent version of teaching – you take the kids for a short time, hype them up, feed them sugar, bend the boring parents rules and then hand them back when it’s time for the nappy changing and all the other not so nice stuff. There are no targets to meet, no curriculum objectives to follow, no reports to write, no sanctions to apply.

Don’t get me wrong – I *really* approve of initiatives such as Code Club and Apps for Good – they are great! Lots of kids enjoy them, lots of teachers learn from them and the professionals are generous in giving up their time – a win all round. I just don’t like the way the media portrays after school clubs as the saviours of Computing in the UK, whilst the helpless teachers are presumably languishing in the store cupboard drinking piña coladas.

3. What’s going to happen when the pros are bored?
Picture this – it is some years from now. Lots of initiatives have been set up to provide supplementary coding education in after school clubs, and are working. The subject of Computing is largely dead because it is being covered outside the curriculum and therefore valuable curriculum time is taken over by other subjects. No teachers are training to teach Computing because there are no jobs available, and besides who wants to do a job where everyone knows someone doing it in their spare time is better than you? Helping kids code is no longer de rigueur, so the devs have stopped doing it. Who’s going to pick up the pieces?

So what should happen instead?
It’s true that not all IT and Computing teachers in the UK at the moment have the right skills. (It’s also true that this isn’t their fault!) Instead of barging in and taking over with all sorts of shiny initiatives, it would be much more valuable to teachers who don’t have a Computer Science background if IT professionals would support them – both publicly and practically. Teachers really don’t need other people ‘taking over’ their job because they are inept – obviously this isn’t actually happening, but the way it is portrayed in the media, this is what it looks like. They need to be able to say “I worked with Dave from Company X and we drew up a scheme of work using my expertise in teaching and his expertise in programming. We’ll run it together next year and the year after I hope I’ll be able to run it on my own.” Now that would be really valuable.

If companies genuinely want to make a difference and find a long term solution rather than just getting some warm and fuzzy PR, how about asking “who’s teaching our teachers to code” instead?

3 thoughts on “Who’s teaching our kids to code?

  1. As someone who works on both sides of the divide I think that is an excellent suggestion in the last paragraph.

    I was asked to come in and teach Scratch to 2 X 30 Year 5’s for .2 of the week as my STEM Ambassador role (I think I’ve done enough for five years’ worth now ;)) and that is a different proposition altogether than an hour after school with the most motivated pupils.

    As a pretty experienced ICT specialist (old school) I knew that the differentiation and other “reality checks” were the most problematic when it came to learning certain new concepts. They all knew about probability but not about random numbers and randomness as one example. I had to heavily adapt the worksheets, available to me in another role, precisely because of this. The “pinch points” where they weren’t going to to “get it” had to be made very explicit, with lots of off computer reflection and enrichment. The pedagogy was paramount.

    As you say, I think the best way forwards is for teachers not to worry unduly about lack of expertise but draw on their strengths for orchestrating the collaboration between people and to learn side by side with other professionals.

  2. Pingback: OTR Links 08/04/2013 | doug --- off the record

  3. Pingback: Being a 21st Century Teacher | Code? Boom.

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