Sunday, March 31, 2013

Why We Have To Teach Our Kids To Code

Education is something that bothers me a lot. I don't have children, so that's not the reason, but I do have a degree in Educational Broadcasting and I do sit on a Course Board for a major UK university. I'm also now employing people again. Unfortunately, I'm mostly employing them in the Phillipines, India, Romania, Belgium and Poland.

So, watching an ideologue like Michael Gove trying to take English education back a half century is depressing (not that his equivalents in Scotland, Wales and both parts of Ireland are any better). There are some good bits to what he's doing - teaching everyone how to cook is a pretty decent idea, although I suspect that it will involve lots of goggles and bleach and not the microwaves and frozen dishes that make the most sense (how is it that cook in the bag is considered high cuisine now and called sous-vide, whilst the poor microwave remains derided..?).

What about teaching personal finance in school - it's far more useful than quadratic equations?

And then there are other elements that are far more worrying. Most American kids learn keyboard skills from an early age, but despite the fact that the vast majority of us spend a huge amount of our time using a keyboard, it's a key skill not taught in British schools.

But the real, major issue is that we don't teach kids to code. Foreign languages are nice, but if you already speak English pretty pointless since the whole business world has accepted English as its lingua franca (oh, the irony of that term..). Most coders in the UK I know were self taught, which is as pathetic as it is worrying.

Manufacturing is now done at line level: apps are manufactured using code, not just-in-time raw materials. Our national defence depends on having cleverer coders than Pakistan, a largely medieval state who I truly believe could take us down in an hour if they wanted to, since those Pakistanis who don't go madrases go to coding school. We have little oil left, but we do have one of the best education systems in the world, which could be re-orientated in this direction. However, unless our education system is totally reformed for the 21st century, I do despair of where the UK (or indeed similar countries) will be in just three or four years' time.

Why buy a £100m fighter plane when 10,000 Xbox users with drones is a far better deterrent ? Why teach French in a JavaScript world ? Why produce a TV programme that makes money for Google when you could build your own TV station ?

You can change defence, transport, health and defence policies, but, in my opinion, no single thing would better our lot in the UK than teaching our kids to code.