Why Teachers shouldn’t be expected to teach programming……

It was in the news recently that teachers are under ever increasing pressure to teach “coding” to children, from as young as the age of 5.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think this, in theory, is incredible, and valuable. There is a huge shortage of skilled developers, so getting children involved in code, and coding concepts, at an early age is worthwhile.

However, there is a problem.

It’s a problem that has been incredibly overlooked by the government and educational establishments. You could call it a naivety, or just a lack of appreciation for what we, as “coders”, actually do.

Before I go on, here’s a breakdown of what the Government are expecting1:

Key Stage 1 (5–6 year-olds): Children will be learning what algorithms are, which will not always involve computers. When explained as “a set of instructions” teachers may illustrate the idea using recipes, or by breaking down the steps of children’s morning routines. But they will also be creating and debugging simple programs of their own, developing logical reasoning skills and taking their first steps in using devices to “create, organise, store, manipulate and retrieve digital content”.

Key Stage 2 (7–11 year-olds): Slightly older primary-school children will be creating and debugging more complicated programs with specific goals and getting to grips with concepts including variables and “sequence, selection, and repetition in programs”. They will still be developing their logical reasoning skills and learning to use websites and other internet services. And there will be more practice at using devices for collecting, analysing and presenting back data and information.

Key Stage 3 (11–14 year-olds): Once children enter senior school they will be using two or more programming languages — “at least one of which is textual” — to create their own programs. Schools and teachers will be free to choose the specific languages and coding tools. Pupils will be learning simple Boolean logic (the AND, OR and NOT operators, for example), working with binary numbers, and studying how computer hardware and software work together.

Now before I rant….Teachers….this is in absolutely no way aimed at you. What you do is nothing more than amazing, and I do not for one minute doubt your ability to teach “coding”, given adequate training.

It’s like trying to teach a child to read music when you can’t read it yourself.

You wouldn’t teach a child to play the guitar when you can’t play the tune yourself?

You wouldn’t teach a child the 3 times table when you don’t know it yourself.

Remember at school when the Policeman would come in to tell you about how to become a Policeman?

Do you see where I’m going here?

Of course, there is a budget allocated to “train the teachers” (like, “coding” can just be trained…..), but who’s governing the training? Who is ensuring that the teachers can teach an incredibly complex subject adequately?

One third of 27 secondary schools teaching kids up to and including GCSE level have failed to spend any money training staff in the computing curriculum (on the new Key Stage 3 and 4), according to a number of Freedom of Information responses2

One third? Ok, so that’s only 9 out of 27 schools (hooray for maths), but in an average class size of 25 pupils3, thats over 200 pupils being taught this complex subject by teachers who haven’t had any form of training in this subject.

In the most import time of a child’s learning life these schools are neglecting the importance of well trained teachers in what is now (you’ll hate me for saying this) a core subject. (Sorry, we’re in 2015, this is the here and now).

How can that be OK?

Well, in my opinion, that can’t be ok. When you send your child to school, you expect them to get a good education from people who are well informed in the subjects they teach. And that just isn’t the case in these instances.

I’ve spent years being a “coder” (sorry, it just doesn’t ring true referring to us as “coders”, it’s not all like the Matrix you know, most of what we write can be read like English and pretty much makes sense).

I don’t think I’ve really been taught how to code, however, I have been taught the methodologies of how a programmer works.

THESE ARE FUNDAMENTAL

What can be done?

I first started dabbling in websites back in the 90’s, the days of Geocities, running a fan website for the Manic Street Preachers (yeah, I know, Jealous right?). It was as basic as it gets….nasty HTML to work in Netscape, Flashing GIFS, < tables > < inside > < tables > < inside > < tables > < inside > < tables >.

A fraction of what we have on offer now.

But you know, those evenings fighting with basic HTML to make it look right….that’s fundamental basics. And I think that’s what teachers need to know before the embark on teaching the children.

I had the time (or lack of social life, you decide) to play about with websites, and the internet. I knew about FTP, HTML, CSS, Javascript, Hosting and so on before I had even started College.

I’m not blowing my own trumpet, in fact, far from it, but what I am getting at is that Government, and schools, and teachers, should be looking at involvement from the people who do this kind of thing on a daily basis.

No?

These people who have been there, learning the basics, to go on and form a career from it have a wealth of programming (sorry, “coding”) knowledge that is priceless. Invaluable. It’s real world.

Across the UK there’s a wealth of fantastic web based agencies and freelance developers (“coders”) that picked up on this shortage many years ago and are willing to help. Agencies that want to bridge the skills gap that we currently have in this industry. These are the people that should be consulted by the Government when it comes to bridging this skills gap, the people asked to train the teachers.

I know for a fact that, if approached, the majority of these people will want to help out if they can.

I am one of those people — I would happily give up my time to help either educate the teachers, or teach the children. I’m passionate about how people learn. I wrote my dissertation on Learning Methodologies in Computer science. I studied how people remember things, how they take notes, how they interact with systems. I built a system that used these theories purely to help people learn.

I want to help

Overall, I think more needs to be done to improve the standard of what we teach our children. This starts by getting the right people involved to help pass on the knowledge required. “coding” is a skill, a craft, if you will.

Get the craftspeople involved and help young developers flourish.

And you know, if you want, get in touch, because I’m more than happy to come in to schools / colleges and give talks.


Originally published at www.lifeinpixels.co.uk on September 7, 2015.