Live 2 Learn

A few thoughts and ideas

Do we need coding in school?

MatrixIn a recent Guardian article (See Here) John Naughton gives us some ideas about how to approach the problem of educating our kids in the technology saturated world that is only going to get more-so in the future. A great deal of what Naughton says I agree with but he then resorts to some good old-fashioned rallying cry stuff like 
”The biggest justification for change is not economic but moral. It is that if we don’t act now we will be short-changing our children. They live in a world that is shaped by physics, chemistry, biology and history, and so we, quite rightly, want them to understand these things. But their world will be also shaped and configured by networked computing and if they don’t have a deeper understanding of this stuff then they will effectively be intellectually crippled. They will grow up as passive consumers of closed devices and services, leading lives that are increasingly circumscribed by technologies created by elites working for huge corporations such as Google, Facebook and the like. We will, in effect, be breeding generations of hamsters for the glittering wheels of cages built by Mark Zuckerberg and his kind.”

I accept that all children should probably be given the experience of processing, analysing, synthesising, generating, controlling and displaying through ICTs. I understand the underlying educational reasons for having some computer science within schools both for its value as a science which leads on to possible career and study paths, and as support for higher order thinking-type activities in any area of study. However, the point that we do our kids a disservice and confine them to the category marked ‘intellectual cripples’ is, in my view a bit of a simplistic way of looking at things (Which is not reflected in much of the otherwise well expressed article).

We don’t teach all our kids how to design and build electromechanical devices such as washing machines or audio systems such as mp3 players, or, probably the most transformative technology until networked devices came along, cars. Nevertheless, we expect our kids will, in the future, be able to make decisions on purchasing and using these technologies without being manipulated by the Bosch, Electrolux, Samsung, Sony, Ford and Hoover power-mongers. We have to be a bit more discerning in our construction of a rationale for kids using ICTs either generally or within computer science-type subject areas.

The following are the areas of consideration that I think are worth considering, productivity – students must be able to be useful, competitive, competent in a range of tools to use in any context throughout their study and working lives – ICT exposure is essential and high quality teaching in methods and tools is needed throughout school. 
ethical issues – ICT use is so tied up with other areas of personal, commercial, social and work life that it inevitably has implications for ethical, legal and social considerations – Social and ethical issues should be explored throughout a student’s life of study. 
personal control and safety – our use of networked computing devices is undeniably changing the way we interact, work and play as social entities, it is important that all can stay safe physically, psychologically, financially, identity-wise and that through their actions our kids respect the rights and needs of others to do the same – this with the previous point means that social, ethical and citizenship issues should be studied by students 
life-long versatility – our children will be required to maintain their value and currency in a world that is likely to remain on a trajectory of significant technological change for the foreseeable future. 
ICT as a learning tool – the affordances of ICT hardware, software, online services and the activities that these systems generate or enable add hugely to the armoury of tools and techniques that teachers can use in the planning, generation, delivery, assessment, management and communication of instructional programs – for this reason children should be using the tools throughout their school journey and directed by knowledgable and innovative teachers 
Computer science – there should be elements of computer and information science taught in many different ways in all subjects, this will probably include coding, information management, network analysis, system design, HCI and much else. In the same way that students are able to specialise in Physics and Chemistry, Biology and Marine Science, Agriculture and Geography, so a student should have a range of ‘technology’ sciences to choose from. 
So there are a distinct range of arguments for ICT inclusion within school education but this doesn’t mean that unless every student learns coding they will be subject to the whim of Facebook, Google or whoever is the latest technology mega-entity.

Sure, there are good reasons for kids to learn coding – its a great activity whether its done by Year 4 students writing a web-page in the context of History or whether its a student designing a database system in a senior computer science course, but there will be many students who never study coding or, having experienced it, choose never to code again or even be interested in ICTs (specifically) who will perform productively, ethically, safely, controlled, and remain versatile using the tools that are available to work, study, socialise or just be entertained. These ‘non-technologist’ students are actually the more important ones to consider in education as they are the ones who need skills, attitudes, approaches to using technology borne of work and study in non-technology courses.

I’m all for coding and I believe that much of what we can do with ICTs in schools is unrealised and definitely unknown (as yet) but I think we need to think clearly about the ‘where’, ‘ when’ and ‘how’ in order to maximise our efforts and optimise our use of ICT within the curriculum.

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