As a child I went to
state school in an inner city London school which, like so many of its
kind, let me and many of my fellow students down in practically every
subject. One particular subject was the then-called “computer studies”
which is now known as ICT (Information and Communications Technology).
Just like the state-schooled children of today, the only “computer
studies” we were introduced to was a basic understanding of how to use a
word processor and very simple spreadsheet management.
you would probably be surprised to learn that for the last 13 years I
have been working in IT with several professional IT qualifications
under my belt and am a member of the British Computer Society. Despite
failing at school, I used online resources to teach myself the
fundamentals of network engineering, computer programming and web
design. If I can do it (and I’m not the sharpest tool in the box!), then
anyone can! For the last 7 years I’ve worked in a dual-role in central
London; managing a network that supports over 2,500 London black taxis
as well as programming Web applications providing tens of thousands of
customers with access to their taxi bookings.
Why am I blabbering
on about all this, you might ask. Well, yesterday in the news you may
have heard that Education Secretary Michael Gove announced radical new
changes to the national curriculum with regards to ICT.
the government has listened to the IT industry and realised what we’ve
been saying for years: the next generation needs to be tech-savvy.
Britain needs to lead the way in state-of-the-art computer programming.
This covers a vast range of technologies ranging from consumer-level
software (smartphone “apps”, Websites, video games, special effects in
movies and TV), to industry-level software (medical equipment,
transportation, infrastructure, architecture). Do we want to be behind
the rest of the world in technology? Do we want all the exciting
possibilities for the nation’s children to be outsourced to some remote
country on the other side of the world? No!
So, as an
ex-state-schooled kid, I was so pleased to hear that the garbage the
national curriculum calls ICT (using proprietary software – Microsoft
Office – to learn basic clerical skills) is to be scrapped in favour of
real computer science. I don’t blame the schools for implementing this
gross waste of time and money, for they have had their hands forced by
previous backward, outdated governments who wouldn’t know an iPhone from
igloo. This is scandalous, because whilst our economy will always need
administrators and clerical workers, we also need software developers,
computer engineers and video game designers.
state-schooled children are obtaining a better education in computer
science (one can only hope that the bureaucrats get it right!), we in
the home education community (my wife and I home educate our 9 year old
son) don’t want to be left behind. I say this for a number of reasons.
First of all, we need our children to be armed with the skills they need
to compete against their state-schooled counterparts. Secondly, we need
to be prepared for the inevitable declarations from the LEA that our
children are missing out on these new-fangled skills now that the
schools are doing what many of us already do! And finally, you will be
surprised just how much fun it is (and how easy it is) for children to
learn computer science. Computer programming is the perfect way to bring
to life all that boring maths your kids are learning!
article interests you, I hope to be able to help you unravel the
mysteries of computer programming (aka coding) and give your children
(and you too if you’re interested!) a head-start in not just
understanding how computers work, but how to make them do what you want
them to do. There are a number of free, user-friendly resources, courses
and tools now available to allow anyone from 6 to 60 to become an
accomplished programmer – with little or no former experience! Before I
list a few of these, let me clarify something about computer
Learning to program is not hard. There, I said it!
It really isn’t hard to learn. What is difficult is mastering it. Just
like almost everything else in life, learning to program is easy to
learn. Admittedly, mastering a programming language takes a lot of hard
work as well as much trial and error. But there is a lot of free support
out there on the Internet and the benefits are rewarding. If you think
computers are too clever for you or your child/children to ever be able
to program them, you’re wrong. Computers are stupid! Think about it. If
you’d never made a cucumber sandwich, and I asked you to make me one,
I’d probably give you instructions like so:
“Get two slices of
bread from the bag, use a knife to spread the butter evenly. Cut up the
cucumber, put it one one slice and push the two bits of bread together
and put it on a plate”. Simple!
Now imagine telling a computer how to do this using any programming language. You’d have to give instructions a bit like:
bread is available in the bread bin (which is in the kitchen on the
worktop), take out two slices – a slice is approximately 150mm x 150mm.
Lay both slices flat on the worktop and obtain a butter knife from the
drawer. This will be in the left hand compartment. You will need to hold
the knife by the handle. Now obtain the butter from the fridge (top
right shelf, yellow container), remove the lid from the container and
insert the knife at a 30 degree angle…” and so on – as you can see, this
is a far more lengthy process because the computer really has no
intelligence. However, you are intelligent, and you can utilise your
vastly superior intelligence to instruct the computer to do what you
want it to do. Remember: the computer is the slave, and you are its
master – not the other way round!
So, on to the resources. The website www.codecademy.com has been set up in conjunction with the Code Year program (www.codeyear.com)
started on 1st January this year, with the intention of helping you
become a programming ninja within the year. Sporting a clean, easy to
use interface, you work through interactive, bite-sized exercises which
and Ruby. You gain points, awards and badges as you work your way
through the exercises, which is a great encouragement.
resource is designed primarily for children but of course is suitable
for anyone wanting to learn to program. The language of choice is Ruby
(an object-orientated open-source language developed in Japan by someone
who wanted to provide people with an easier, more human-understandable
language). The colourful and fun website www.kidsruby.com
provides kids and parents with free software that’ll have your little
ones building computer games in Ruby in no time at all. Building
computer games is a great and exciting way for children to put to use
the maths and science they learn in school and they learn to program
without realising it!
Up next is www.hackety.com
– another colourful and fun website which helps absolute beginners and
kids learn to program quickly, also in Ruby. You can quickly develop
graphical interfaces and several lessons and example programs are
provided, showing you how to make all kinds of fun things!
One more similar resource is the website http://scratch.mit.edu
– a kid-friendly website which provides free software and starter kits
that’ll get your kids developing in a simple programming language called
Scratch (designed by MIT).
Of course there are far more
resources and programming languages out there which you can easily find
through Google. However, if you’re an absolute beginner or want to get
your kids interested in coding, then the above websites are a great