#Croydon #TechCity: The Next Generation (or why our children need to code)

By - Friday 8th February, 2013

The National Curriculum isn’t doing enough for our children’s futures, says Croydon Tech City founder Jonny Rose

There are over 90 primary schools in the London Borough of Croydon.

Some are faith schools, some are independent, some are state, some are co-ed.

The great unifier across all of them, is that very few have made any dedicated provision in either the curriculum or extra-curricular for teaching computer programming (by which I mean, teaching children useful coding languages).

This is a massive oversight.

Children are the future. So is coding.

There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that computer programming is rapidly becoming one of those ‘must-have’ skills our parents always used to encourage us to have in order to make us well-rounded individuals; learn to drive, learn to swim, learn a musical instrument, learn a foreign language, and now – learn CSS.

Universities want to reverse the decline in applicants for computer science courses. Gaming companies want more programmers. The government wants more high-tech start-ups. Manufacturers want trainees who can design embedded systems. And so on.

Crucially, even jobs that haven’t historically required knowledge of NoSQL and Javascript – such as PR, marketing, and sales – are increasingly filing ‘knowledge of HTML5 beneficial’ addenda to job descriptions. On a personal note, as a recent graduate, I have found myself frustrated by my own lack of technical knowledge (this is has been rectified, in part, by doing daily lessons through Code Academy) which regularly impedes my work on a day-to-day basis.

Yet, instead of educating our young on how to create software, our primary (and secondary) schools insist on continuing to merely train them to use increasingly obsolete software.

The great folly of “ICT” in Croydon Primary Schools

To be sure, you will often see Croydon’s primary schools and Ofsted reports trumpet “ICT provision”.

What this looks like in practice is:

4.1       The teaching of ICT contributes to teaching and learning in all curriculum areas. It also offers ways of impacting on learning which are not possible with conventional methods. Teachers use software to present information visually, dynamically and interactively, so that children understand concepts more quickly. For example, graphics work links in closely with art, databases support mathematics, while role-play simulations and the Internet prove very useful for research. ICT enables children to present their information and conclusions in the most appropriate way. A lot of software is generic, and can therefore be used in several curriculum areas.

4.2       English

As the children develop mouse and keyboard skills, they learn how to edit and revise text on a computer. They have the opportunity to develop their writing skills by communicating with people via e-mail and word processing.  They also learn how to improve the presentation of their work by using desktop publishing software. There is in addition a variety of software that targets specific reading, grammar and spelling skills and talking stories that support reading.

4.3       Mathematics

Children use ICT in mathematics to collect data, make predictions, analyse results, and present information graphically. Floor and screen turtles are used to explore, create and write procedures and simple computer programmes.

4.4       Science

Software is used to animate and model scientific concepts and to allow children to investigate processes, which would be impracticable to do in the classroom. Data loggers are used to assist in the collection of data and in producing tables and graphs.

 (source: Whitehorse Manor Junior School ICT Policy)

In short, your children are being taught how to hold a mouse, how to enter numbers into a spreadsheet, and where ‘Save As’ is in Microsoft Word.

*Stony face*

In 2012, children don’t just need to know the above – and, to be clear, I’m not for one moment denigrating the teaching of these fundamentals – but they also need to be introduced as early as possibly to the underlying functions, processes, and languages that are powering that mouse, being calculated in that spreadsheet, and saving that Word file to the hard drive.

Children need to know about: algorithms (the mathematical recipes that make up programs); cryptography (how confidential information is protected on the net); machine intelligence (how services such as YouTube, NetFlix, Google, and Amazon predict your preferences); search (how we find needles in a billion haystacks); recursion (a method where the solution to a problem depends on solutions to smaller instances of the same problem); and heuristics (experience-based techniques for problem-solving, learning, and discovery) – and so on.

Infographic: Why our children should learn to code

(Forgive me, for a very US-centric graphic – the general message still applies to us in the UK)

Infographic from OnlineCollege’s ‘Program or Be Programmed’ Licenced under Creative Commons

What is the Government doing to facilitate coding in schools?

In short: too little, too late.

Croydon’s primary schools are subject to a national curriculum that just cannot keep up with the technological advances in the wider world.

Governments tend not to invest in primary education and research and development, because it’s a thankless, multi-decade endeavour that obstinately refuses to concord with the electoral cycle.

That said, earlier in the year, the government made promising overtures to overhaul the way computer sciences are taught in schools, with a particular emphasis on coding and programming. In practice, however, such a radical agenda for change is always going to take an aeon before any discernible effect is apparent. It is also notable that government action in this area is decidedly ‘secondary first’, with primary schools being underestimated as an incubator for the next Steve Jobs.

Solution: Croydon Tech City and Code Club

For Croydon to fulfill its massive skills deficit and prevent an entire generation falling victim to it, there needs to be drastic action.

Croydon’s primary school teachers are over-worked, unfunded, and fire-fighting on many different fronts. Local government bodies are under-informed, sluggish, and also fire-fighting on many fronts.

For something to happen, there needs to be intervention from private and volunteer-led groups, that can partner with forward-thinking primary schools to do the heavy-lifting of providing structured, scalable, and non-disruptive coding classes.

That something is Code Club:

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Otherwise, we risk consigning our young to a lifetime of oscillating between unstable McJobs and seasonal trips to the DWP.

Croydon Tech City FTW.


Stop reading about the change and be part of it:

Croydon Tech City is holding its ‘Schools Edition’ on Thursday February 21st from 7.30pm at Matthews Yard -  put this in your diary NOW and come along!

This month Croydon Tech City seeks to show young people and teachers the exciting new opportunities afforded by creating tech products and how to build a startup business through learning coding. There will be talks from the founder of Code Club (Clare Sutcliffe) and demos from Croydon’s young software developers and startup founders. ALL WELCOME.

Please sign up here: https://www.facebook.com/events/433562240050510/

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He owns a lead generation company. He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training and a Linkedin lead generation service. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • http://twitter.com/greencroydon Andrew Dickinson

    How much interest are you getting from schools/teachers?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=223301572 Jonny Rose

      Hey Andrew,

      I don’t know (exactly) yet as I have a dedicated Croydon Tech City Code Club team who are handling everything from promotion, organisation and recruitment of Code Club in Croydon’s primary schools.

      I do know that at least four primary schools want to host one – but I imagine that number will go up massively after the 21st :)

  • http://twitter.com/neilspellings Neil Spellings

    I’ve sent the link to the office of my daughters primary school. No idea if it’ll get through to the right person, or whether they have any interest in acting on it though!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=223301572 Jonny Rose

      Neil – you hero!

      Let me know if you hear anything soon. If not, please nudge teachers/head to come on the 21st…thanks :)