Friday, June 17, 2011

Should Computer Science be a core lesson in schools?

I was reading this BBC News article "Are children becoming 'digitally illiterate'?" which piqued my interest yesterday. It points out that computers have become ever more complex over the years and kids are taught in schools how to use them. Most young people know how to use Word, Excel, etc... they can work Windows, they can use a smartphone, they can email, tweet, blog, facebook, play games (from consoles to flash to mobile), they can do many complex tasks from a very early age. Some kids can surf the net before they've even started school... yet they don't understand nor are they taught the basic foundations that allow the creation of this software or hardware.

When I was a teen I had my first computers. They were simpler beasts. Through experimentation I knew how to take them apart, upgrade them, format them, etc. I found ways to make outdated DOS games work on newer versions of Windows. I took games apart, played with the code, customised the look and feel, built my own levels... I found little hacks, little fiddles, I knew the ins and outs of the kit I had to play with. I taught myself HTML and could produce some pretty fancy websites (for the time). Some of my peers took this further - they learnt how to write little pieces of software and scripts.

Many of the people working in the digital and software industries today started their careers as a teenager fiddling with their hardware in their room (chortle at implied inuendos).

But things were simpler then! The mind boggles how a teenager now could learn to build a website now - sure they could learn basic HTML and produce a crappy site like the ones I used to produce (crappy by todays standards)... but can the average teen learn PHP (etc), CSS and proper HTML skills from their bedroom in the same way? Is it possible to take things apart in the same way without irriparably breaking them? Things are so much more complex now than they were. And what's the motivation?

Many of the most well known, multi-billion pound, software and digital offerings started life from some kids bedroom. Someone who'd been tinkering with code as a teen and took this further into something that became Facebook, or Windows, or Spotify or... etc. Many of the well-paid programmers, contractors, producers, MD's, UX's, designers, etc started their careers pottering with a crappy basic computer at home.

But today's generation have super-whizzy computers, mobiles, etc. To complex to take apart - so where can a new generation get the knowledge they need to ensure the UK continues to have a thriving technical industry? Surely in school! As the Beeb article asks, should Computer Science be taught as a lesson in school? I say absolutely - every kid should know basic IT (how to use Word, internet, apps, etc) and they should know the science that goes behind it.

The UK is not a country rich in material resource but (in theory) it is a country rich in smart people. However, if enough people aren't nurtured and encouraged to follow careers in software, media, etc then we'll loose out to other countries that can do it more cheaply (China?).

Everyone needs to be taught basic foundations that will help them get through life - that includes the classic disciplines of science, maths, english, etc - but being able to understand the technological world we live in, how it works, how to manipulate it, how to follow a career in - that's as essential as being taught how to read and write.

1 comment:

Asad said...

Computer science courses involve creating codes and software. However, it takes more than this to turn a good idea into a user-friendly solution. Computer science schools train you to work in a team and achieve excellent results with active collaboration. computer science schools in Philippines