Monday, December 05, 2011

"Software is like magic: all you need is ability"

Last week I commented about an anonymous Irish Times article "Kids use PCs at home yet write by hand at school. It's antediluvian" in which I agreed that there is not enough technology education in our schools. This debate gains further ground from John Naughton writing in today's Guardian newspaper "Programming should take pride of place in our schools". Naughton writes that if "we don't change the way ICT is thought about and taught, we're shutting the door on our children's futures". Here-here!

Image link to The Guardian.
For anyone passionate about technology and education - Naughton's article is a "must-read". While the article is about UK schools, it can easily be translated for schools all over the world. Naughton sees learning the likes of Microsoft Office as merely "office skills" - and that what's missing is "any appreciation of the real significance of introducing children to programming". In the UK and Ireland, our schools and colleges are constantly criticized for not producing graduates with the skills needed by industry. Despite this, talented young people like Shawn Fanning (Napster) and Mark Zuckerburg (Facebook) innovated with little more than a laptop and programming ability. We should teach at least some basic programming in our schools. Not just as an option in Transition Year - but as a full subject for Junior and Leaving Certificates. It would be better and more useful than some of our exiting subjects. I left secondary school in 1978, and since the mid 1980s I have used computers almost every day. Not once since 1978 have I had a conversation in Irish longer than a cĂșpla focal.

Naughton's final paragraph is telling:

That's why software is like magic: all you need is ability. And some children, for reasons that are totally and wonderfully mysterious, have an extraordinary aptitude for programming – just as some have a musical, mathematical or artistic gift. If the government excludes computer science from the national curriculum then it will be effectively slamming the door to the future.

Technology as a main subject for secondary school students WILL HAPPEN - it's just a matter of when.

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