Coding – The New Latin? A little discussion…

Hands up if this brings back memories:-

A couple of days ago the BBC News ran an article entitled ‘Coding – The New Latin’, a piece discussing the proposal that coding/programming may become some kind of core subject in schools, and that ICT skills taught in today’s age are really nothing more than primers on the general day-to-day operation of computers (or MS-Office basics) rather than how they work or how to get them to do what we want them to.

I have to say I completely agree with this proposal.  As a person with a high interest in programming but with skills that are mainly self-taught as a byproduct of an inquisitive mind, I feel that such teaching would have been invaluable at a younger age.  That said, I was always a geek at heart, learning to program BASIC on my Commodore 64 by copying code from books and magazines.  Not every kid I went to school with was like that – in fact I think I was a pretty rare breed in terms of my own peers at the time.

Nearly half of my life ago I left the world of education with a complete lack of interest in computers and only a handful of skills in PC use.  I had discarded my programming books and was interested in girls and going out.  It was only when I entered the world of work that my interest in those things was reborn, and the prior knowledge I had gained from a mis-spent youth ‘coding’ at least gave me some idea that I could make things happen with computers that went beyond creating ‘flashy’ PowerPoint presentations or making newsletters in Word or Publisher.  

I soon started putting things together and finding that many of these products had some form of in-built programming language which, if applied could not only save me time but that of others.  I started learning more about the subject and I’ve never looked back.  I’m not sure if I’d have had the same enthusiasm had I not picked up the very basics from an early age.

All that being said, I’m no computer scientist.  I know what I know and I make a pretty decent living from it.   If I had my time again I would certainly have taken a greater academic interest in computers rather than my pretty useless A-Level in Psychology.

I certainly don’t think that teaching children the building blocks of coding will produce a surge in applicants to computer science degrees in later life, but I do think it has the opportunity to open minds to the possibilities of that machine we carry in our bags to work, or sit in front of at home.  Even using Excel functions and formulas is made easier when you have a basic understanding of constants, variables and conditional logic.  I think it would really make a difference.

Children today are completely surrounded by technology, the operation of which often baffles the older generations.  Smart phones, tablets and Internet applications are now a staple of youth culture, and their operation often comes more naturally than, say, reading or basic numeracy.  These are obviously the building blocks of education and should continue to be so, but some teaching on ‘how’ and ‘why’ these technologies do what they do in basic coding terms I feel would help no end.

What do you think?  Comments are more than welcome.

2 Comments

  • December 2, 2011 - 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Too funny. I remember had a C64, and the first computer I ever bought (with my own money) was a C128.

    I remember being in programming class in highschool programming on the Apple IIe, as well. Most fun back then was to plug in your buddy’s monitor to your PC, when he wasn’t looking. After he got confused that his computer was typing different things, he really freaked out when “the computer” started typing back at him… “No, Jim, I don’t feel like doing that.” “What are you doing, Jim?” Got the poor guy so freaked out that he actually shut off his computer. (Now that’s a mis-spent youth!)

    Seriously, I think kids should be exposed to programming, and definitely a proper computer applications course. They don’t need to come out as programmers, but they need to get to the point that they realize two things: 1) They can do some amazing things if they learn to do it well, and 2) They do NOT know it all already. :)

  • Matt
    December 3, 2011 - 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Your story reminds me of a similar stunt I once played when I worked for an IT department for a big UK retailer. When a couple of the admin staff were out for lunch we spent half an hour swapping keyboard connections around to pretty much the same effect.

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