back to article Compulsory coding in schools: The new Nerd Tourism

The writer Toby Young tells a story about how the modern 100m race is run in primary schools. At the starting pistol, everyone runs like mad. At the 50m point, the fastest children stop and wait for the heavier kids to catch up. Then all the youngsters walk across the finishing line together, holding hands. I have no idea if …


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  1. Thomas 18


    We don’t need a lot of people who know a bit about chemistry, but a few people who are extremely good at actually doing chemistry well. The better the elite are, the more productive and innovative our pharmaceutical companies, and therefore the more our economy will benefit.

    So people who will become members of this chemical engineering elite do not require a compulsory Noddy-level introduction to acids vs alkali. Economically, teaching everybody “a bit” of chemistry is a waste of time. We’d be better off stimulating and challenging the young bright chemical engineering aspirants identified as such in schools.

    1. Eugene Crosser

      Re: Maybe?


      Writing HTML as a lesson of "computer science" is like mixing epoxy as a lesson of chemistry. In the school the fundamentals of chemistry are taught, acids vs alkali as you said. For "computer science", the fundamentals would be a bit of semiconductors, a bit of Boolean logic, a bit of information theory. Then, a chance to write a few simple programs in Python for Raspberry Pi, or (better) for Arduino. Not HTML pages.

      1. asdf

        Re: Maybe?

        >Writing HTML as a lesson of "computer science"

        What there are a whole lot of design hacks that think using Dreamweaver to create HTML makes them professional developers. Web development to software engineering for the most part is what tabloids are to journalism.

    2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      Re: Maybe?

      Knowing the difference between acid and alkali is not comparable to knowing how to fiddle with a stylesheet.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Maybe?

        Algorithms&Data Structures would be quite comparable to (say) infinitesimal calculus. The argument is indeed valid.

        Teaching specifics of a certain technology would be different, though.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Maybe?

        "Knowing the difference between acid and alkali is not comparable to knowing how to fiddle with a stylesheet."

        I think the point being made is that knowing how to fiddle with a stylesheet/HTML doesn't mean you know anything about computer science. At a push, you know about HEX for the colour codes, that as close as I can get stylesheets to computer science.

        I know hundreds of programmers who can program in HTML. Well, I knew them to the point they said that, then I ran away.

    3. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Re: Maybe?

      The point is that people who will go on to be a genius in something may not know about their gift or their interest in something until they are told about it.

      Many gifted athletes are discovered at school doing sports. Not all children like sports or are good at them, but by ensuring everyone does it the gifted are found.

      What is lost at the moment is the curiosity to see how things work and then alter things or repair them. Instead we buy a gadget and then throw it away when it doesn't work. We're discouraged from opening them with messages like "No user serviceable parts inside".

      Some kids will self learn, but they can get up to speed faster with pointers. If I had been guided a bit more back in the C64 days I may have gone on to write some assembly language software. But school IT was not at that level, they were teaching LOGO and Pascal.

  2. JimmyPage
    Black Helicopters

    Tin foil hat time

    Learning to code has nothing do do with C,C++,C#, PHP, Ruby, Python, VB, et al, and everything to do with developing a logical view of the world, and problem solving. Two activities successive governments have tried to breed out of the population. Keeps them docile, you see. As long as they are fed their diet of "celebrity" gossip, soaps, and "reality" TV, they won't be thinking about revolting too much. I believe the Romans had a name for it.

    Meanwhile, if you actually need people to do the logic and problem solving, then why not bring in non residents (who will be too busy working to revolt) or offshore the work ?

    Given the level of mainstream debate on most issues requiring a bit of scientific knowledge, I'd say it's pretty much mission accomplished.

    1. crowley

      Bread and the circus

      Bring people in? Isn't it about time we taught the people we already have to think?

      France does philosophy and critical thinking in their schools - perhaps we should do the same and let the kids self-select who want to be geeks, chemists, etc.

      We would of course need to insist that children are fed food that allows their brains to develop, mandatory healthy school meals, taxes on fatty/sugary filth to fund subsidies on healthy food.

      Sod your 'right' to eat shit and produce idiots - the rest of us end up paying for that 'lifestyle choice'.

      Decent bread leading to intelligent people who find their work more interesting and more satisfying than any circus.

      1. JimmyPage
        Black Helicopters

        Isn't it about time we taught the people we already have to think?

        Depends what you think is going on around you. If you believe that the state acts in a rational manner, for the good of all it's citizens, then you'd be right. If, on the other hand, you believe the state acts to maintain a very self-selected elite in the style to which they have become accustomed, then you'd be wrong.

        The powers that be have always been terrified of a populus that has any degree of learning. Because once you realise that most of the world around us can be explained in rational, sensible terms, you start asking why you need politicians (or, in days of yore, priests and shaman) to manage it on our behalf.

        The howling irony is that given the tools of instant communication, and sharing of ideas and beliefs that the internet has given us, instead of becoming MORE enlightened, we are, as a nation, becoming LESS so. Those select few have realised the risk that open debate poses to their standing, and have manipulated the public into rejecting anything remotely approaching rational debate. Look at the ChildPornTerroristCopyrightInfringingAdultcontentPublicdisorder "initiatives" that are being tabled right now.

        So the roadmap is clear. Dumb down the indigenous population, so they are docile and compliant, and come to heel when the dog-whistle words of "terrorism" or "child abuse" are mentioned. Then exploit (as you have done for hundreds of years) people from less-developed countries into being serfs here.

      2. Someone Else Silver badge

        Re: Bread and the circus

        Well, yes, of course it is about time...unless, of course, you're one of the 1%-er landed gentry. Then, the last possible thing you would want is more and more logical thinkers and deductive reasoners, who would have an annoying tendency to see through the bluster and bullshit that you shovel out on a regular basis, and these damn logical types might then just get a bit...uppity.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bread and the circus

        @crowley : My daughter does Critical Thinking at school and can do philosophy if she wants. She drives a computer pretty well too but doesn't want to learn computer science at all.

        As for your idea that "the rest of us end up paying for that 'lifestyle choice', I'm sorry but SOME of us pay for it. Not all. In this case, I am actually paying for it direct and not you (not one penny). So, she will eat what she likes, when she likes and not what you choose is acceptable.

    2. EvilMole

      Re: Tin foil hat time

      That's actually a great example of teaching the application, rather than the principles.

      Coding is just an example of approaching problem solving in a rational, logical way: it teaches you rational methods of approaching a set of specific logical problems.

      What we should, be doing instead is teaching the basics of reason, rhetoric, and logic. Those are applicable directly to everything, from political discourse through to scientific argument.

      1. Thomas 18

        Re: Tin foil hat time

        Coding is also a great way to visualise logic and learn how it can go wrong by debugging an unexpected outcome. I think you would have more luck teaching them (programming/logic) side by side than independently.

        In fact I'd go farther and say you cant teach someone reasoned thought, rhetoric etc without having a concrete example like a classroom debate or historical film etc.

    3. Iberian

      Re: Tin foil hat time

      I agree.

      Teaching "programming" is failing to understand the issue completely. The skills needed are reasoning; logic; critical analysis; problem solving. Teaching how to use a coding language in isolation is nonsense.

      1. streaky

        Re: Tin foil hat time

        I dare say it's about much more than that. Sure critical analysis, logic and maths are part of writing software, but there's a fundamental level of intelligence it takes to write good software that you just can't teach people.

        It should be about nurturing the curious not effectively force feeding it to people that don't give a damn.

        We don't even know as a species how to teach it to people who are interested (see: the number of real-world unemployable java developers our universities are spitting out every year) so I can only guess at the stupidity that will ensue trying to league table academy software secondary school's for kids who's parents think writing software is the easy way to a fast quid or 20 million.

  3. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    I would say that an important part of programming that ought to be taught is how to deal - sorry interact - with people who can't. Most especially those above you in the hierarchy. Thorny topics such as 'I need time to refactor' or 'Just because our competitor does it doesn't make it a good idea'. Possibly even 'Asking me to work longer hours won't magically fix the problem'.

    Programming is as much art as skill. Programmers need to be given enough freedom to enjoy their work and respect shown to them to encourage them. Yes, programming is a job but it is NOT a production line scenario. We need time to think and to explore and the business needs to realise that. We can work to a deadline but only if the schedule includes some 'us' time.

    1. DJV Silver badge
      Thumb Up


      Some very true and wise words there! Programming can also be intuitive (for some) - I have often "fixed" problems by going away and doing completely different until the solution pops into my head (I think some sort of agency sends them telepathically).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @AndrueC

        Oh aye, I can't count how many times the solution to a problem I've been working on has popped into my head on the drive home.

        Couple that with my shit memory and penchant for a couple of pints after work and it's usually disappeared by the morning; should probably keep a notepad in the car.

        1. AndrueC Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: @AndrueC

          Rather disturbingly some of my best ideas have come while I've been in the loo :)

          1. Crisp

            Re: @AndrueC

            I suffer from the unfortunate affliction of getting solutions for everyone else's problems, but not my own.

            1. DJV Silver badge


              "I suffer from the unfortunate affliction of getting solutions for everyone else's problems, but not my own."

              You should become a consultant!

          2. David Lucke

            Re: @AndrueC

            I tend to find solutions to problems coming to me in the shower. I ascribe it to the warm water heating up my brain to its ideal operating temperature.

        2. Evan Essence

          Re: @AndrueC

          @AC 09:44

          I keep a cheap voice memo recorder in the car within easy reach while I'm driving.

      2. Stoneshop


        >"fixed" problems by going away and doing completely different

        This is similar to "Explain it to the bear first": a stuffed teddy bear sitting on a chair outside some University IT department's helpdesk office. People would have to stop thinking about whatever problem they were having to deal with on their on level (and probably going round in circles on that level), step back and describe the problem into small, easy to understand chunks that a stuffed teddy bear can grok. Cut down significantly the number of helpdesk requests.

        1. Philip Lewis

          Re: @DJV

          The "crash test" dummy is the THE MOST EFFECTIVE thought quality assurance device ever invented. The act of collecting thoughts, ideas and arguments into a logical and reasoned whole in isolation, is something very few people master (Tesla could for example), mere mortals are helped immensely by the mechanics of speech. Simply REQUIRING people to articulate the issues in a logical and reasoned way, eliminates 90% of the issues straight up, as it becomes clear to the speaker what he/she had been "missing", without any return communication from the crash test dummy. What most people realise is that they are only about 10% as smart as they thought they were, and they toddle off back to think some more.

          I introduced the "dummy" concept on a project 25 years ago, and to this day I still sometimes ask my colleagues to "be my dummy" and hear my take on the issues. In 99% of all cases, the issue gets resolved, either by me realising my own logical or other error/oversight, or by the dummy uttering the something that makes it all "gel".

          By the way, programming is the final act. Most of the work is in understanding the problem, understanding the schema, articulating precisely requirements etc. etc. Programming is just the end mechanisim for creating something that reflects what went before. The 80/20 rule applies here more than anywere else.

          1. BorkedAgain
            Thumb Up

            Re: @Philip Lewis

            "...programming is the final act...."

            Spot on. Does my heart good to hear that, although you might want to add a moment or two for testing afterwards. But you're dead right - it's all about the preparation.

            There's a skillset that's worth instilling in the next generation. Those who don't grok it can always be shunted into the mandatory Project Management course down the hall...

            1. Vic

              Re: @Philip Lewis

              > But you're dead right - it's all about the preparation.

              A former colleague of mine had an excellent saying: "a week of keyboard-bashing can sometimes remove the need for an hour's thought".

              Now watch someone who doesn't get it come along and "correct" the above... :-(


          2. Vic

            Re: @DJV

            > The "crash test" dummy is the THE MOST EFFECTIVE thought quality

            > assurance device ever invented

            Yes. But it is improved by a simple procesure: eliminate all pronouns.

            It's amazing how much sloppy thinking is eradicated once you stop calling everything "it". Using nouns instead reveals the mismatch between objects straight away...


            1. Northumbrian

              Re: @DJV

              And requiring all political discourse to be conducted without the use of the word "They", would reveal or remove a great deal of muddled thinking. Precision is the enemy demagoguery.

    2. Naughtyhorse


      so that's a lifetime subscription to Dilbert for every 10 year-old!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A little bit of knowledge does no harm - it's essential

    A basic insight into a lot of things is useful - that's kind of what the schooling before GCSEs is all about. Kids so learn a little cookery, history, science geography etc... IT classes should teach a bit of programming. If you just rely on people who are already "into" programming, you will just get the geeks whose parents were probably geeks as programmers. If you introduce all children to it, there will be some who like it, are good at it even though it had never occurred to them before. You may find that these people would be more creative than hard core programmers too. Of course, it must be explained that programming, although essential in the industry, is not essential to individuals, otherwise the education would probably scare off 99.9% of potential IT people who found programming tedious.

    It is a meritocracy, and it should be - but if you don't look for talent, you wont find it all.

    1. Ian McNee

      Re: A little bit of knowledge does no harm - it's essential

      Quite right. Mr Orlowski seems to be dipping into his pal Toby Young's tabloid journalistic toolbox, in this case making use of the false dichotomy. What most people are arguing for is ICT in schools to be more like computer science and less like ECDL.

      Neither Rory Cellan-Jones nor Michael Gove have raised the paper tiger of compulsory coding lessons in schools but this article has certainly has its intended effect of drawing the fire of the Daily Wail commentards below lining up to shoot down not only compulsory coding but also any whiff of equality in education and possibly the return of free school milk too.

      For the record: I have no remit for Michael Gove or his party - on the scale of over-educated chinless wankers he is right up there with Toby Young.

      1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: A little bit of knowledge does no harm - it's essential

        @Ian McNee:

        - ICT is a compulsory part of Key Stage 3.

        - The campaign is to include programming as part of ICT.

        - Therefore, programming becomes compulsory.

        It's quite simple. Logic really isn't your strong point, is it?

        1. Ian McNee

          Re: A little bit of knowledge does no harm - it's essential

          @Andrew Orlowski: again with the tabloid journalist techniques - you conflate coding and computer science. When I did my computer science degree there was a lot more to it than just coding and though that was way back the 80s it is no different now.

        2. P. Lee
          IT Angle

          Re: A little bit of knowledge does no harm - it's essential

          Programming is a side-effect of learning the principles on which computers work, not an end in itself.

          There's no point learning all the Java libraries or VBA. There's plenty of point learning how to do assembly, relational algebra, arrays, pointers, linked-lists, sets, recursion, iteration, vector execution and algorithm design, ASCII codes, AND/OR/NOT operations, arbitrary number bases etc.

          You might use Logo, Ruby, Pascal, 6502 assembly, PERL, C++ or (shiver) BASIC to demonstrate that you know how to do a bubble-sort and its pros/cons vs a quicksort.

          You probably won't need to know sort types if you go on to be a coder, but it will give you an insight into what it is like to do data processing and whether you enjoy algorithm design or systems analysis.

          Stay away from the GUIs, Office suits and web-browsers - isn't that the point of the Raspberry Pi?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A little bit of knowledge does no harm - it's essential

        I attribute my intellectual power to all the school milk I drank as a child. I now see why most of the morons who work for me are so intellectually crippled (despite be MVPs in whatever language is flavour of the month).

        I vote for free school milk (and not that modern homogonised crap either)! Sooner rather than later


    2. Goldmember
      Thumb Up

      Re: A little bit of knowledge does no harm - it's essential

      Well said. The article seems to ignore the fact that there is a genuine shortage of programmers in this country. This is great on a personal, short-sighted level (8 months in to a new job and I STILL get almost daily emails with prospective local jobs), but bad for the industry as a whole.

      Fair enough, not all kids will enjoy coding, and will want to drop it as soon as possible. But there is a need to instil that 'bug', a need not being fulfilled by the current curriculum. I tried and hated PE, textiles and art in school, but I could see the need for it. I came through the school system relatively recently (I left high school 12 years ago), and was completely uninspired by the IT (renamed 'ICT' while I was there) curriculum; typing printed pages of text into Word, Google searches, saving files. All stuff I was doing at home anyway. I took it upon myself to learn to code as I had friends who were into it, and then carried it on into A-Level and University. But I am in the minority it woulod seem. And this point:

      "But time is not infinite, and the proposition requires us to make special time for compulsory coding, shoving other subjects out of the way."

      Surely the only 'subjects' it will shove out of the way are the existing parts of the IT curriculum that are a waste of time anyway; typing, Internet browsing, basic computer use. All things that most students can do by the time they start PRIMARY school nowadays anyway. I seem to remember Gove calling for the IT curriculum to be scrapped and re hashed, not extended to overlap other subjects

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        "The article seems to ignore the fact that there is a genuine shortage of programmers in this country"

        Really? The hundreds of coders I know who've been let go over the last 5 years to be replaced by cheap offshore resource, might disagree with that? There is no shortage of coders, just most of them, like myself, have gotten so fed up with dealing with all the crap that they have transferred their skills into other areas that cannot be as easily replaced by unskilled Indians.

        There are various levels to 'coding' and the most basic one is taking a spec and translating it into code, this is mostly noddy work that can be done by anyone with half a brain, and in my experience is! Then it progressively goes on to being able to understand how to build and structure code properly. Do designs etc.

        What needs to be taught are the foundations behind programming, the critical thinking, the solving of problems in a logical and structured way... You could know every detail of every programming language on the planet, but if everything you code has to be structured and laid out for you to the nth degree by someone else, then you are pointless!

        I work with people who have been coding for decades,, but the code they write is, well, shite. They have spent 20 plus years doing the same things in the same way with no real understanding of how and why, throw something unexpected at them and they are completely out of their depth as they have no concept of solving problems, they just know an archaic programming language that is quite a rare skill nowadays (of course a decent developer in another language could probably pick I up and surpass them in a month, but project managers don't want it in a month, they want it now)

      2. streaky

        Re: A little bit of knowledge does no harm - it's essential

        "The article seems to ignore the fact that there is a genuine shortage of programmers in this country"

        Just isn't true. We got plenty of programmers, just the wrong kind - the result of people who don't know what they're doing forcing policy on people who don't care (lecturers). I also think it is important to differentiate between a code monkey (easily replaceable by somebody in India) and a proper software eng that isn't easy to replace so cheaply.

        As for school ICT looking more like comp sci, the question here is ICT is genuinely useful to everybody, comp sci will aggravate the kind of person who is going to end up studying sports science and cause more problems than it solves.

        I'm not arguing that the current (or past) ICT program is fit for purpose, just that throwing comp sci for everybody all the time might not be a sane idea. Also not for nothing but the people we having teaching ICT in schools mostly aren't qualified for ICT let alone comp sci anyways.

    3. CD001

      Re: A little bit of knowledge does no harm - it's essential

      A basic insight into a lot of things is useful - that's kind of what the schooling before GCSEs is all about.

      Really? Name one thing you learnt doing GCSEs that has been of any use to you in life after school?

      Osmosis is the passage of water, through a semi-permeable membrane, from a weaker to a stronger solution ... useful to know.

      The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides .. yup, use that regularly.

      ummm ... hang on ...

      I'm fairly sure that in your adult life you'll rely more on primary or degree level things, secondary schools (and therefore GCSEs) are basically there to keep children out of the way while they grow up.

      1. Goldmember


        You're missing the point; school is mostly not about literal skills (with the exception of maybe English and foreign languages), it's supposed to be about expanding your mind to absorb knowledge in different ways, giving you the mechanism to learn the literal skills later on.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A little bit of knowledge does no harm - it's essential

        Well, I did help somebody work out the foci of an ellipse so they could have a stove in a greenhouse.* Of course, I think that was A level maths for me, but it's generally quite important to learn the GCSE** stuff first.

        Secondary education is, unfortunately, there mostly to reduce the amount universities have to teach you. Of course, I've been out of it for a few years now so for all I know they might have added some more pragmatism and improved the vocational side.***

        As for teaching everybody programming, there is a good reason to do it, but it also need a good approach.

        Programming is a problem-solving exercise requiring the programmer to break a process down into logical chunks. Considered in the abstract the skills are a good thing for people to learn.

        But the other reason to do it is to expose people to it. Children are people too: they have prejudices and social pressures to conform and will often not even consider certain paths without being forced to try something.

      3. Graham Dawson Silver badge

        Re: A little bit of knowledge does no harm - it's essential

        "The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides .. yup, use that regularly."

        I do. It's very handy when you're building a house, just as a random example that has nothing at all to do with what I do (which is building, don'tcha know). Or even if you're a software developer who wants to, I don't know, program something to display a triangle on a screen.

        Of course, I learned such things back when the GCSE mathematics papers required long written answers.

        Which is to say nothing about the point of the article anyway. Which point, I should add, makes a great deal of sense to me. Some things should be compulsory, but teaching computer skilzzzzzz isn't one of them as it tends to be either a skive-off class or actively puts people off getting involved in software development. GCSE IT is a complete faff.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: A little bit of knowledge does no harm - it's essential

          Things might have changed quite a bit since I went to school.

          However, back then, you got a little of everything for the first three years to see what you liked and what you were good at, then you chose your subjects for the last two for O levels. Back then, everyone took "Computer Studies" for the first three years and I chose to continue. Many others didn't .

          The issue at the heart of this is that schools have now junked Computer Studies for what people used to call "Typing". Now there's nothing wrong with "typing" but it displaced Computer Studies to the point of which it is hardly now taught anywhere at a time where computing as a subject should be hotter than it ever was before.

          In my view, they should kill off ICT as a subject. Most kids know how to use Powerpoint and Word. Re-introduce Computer Studies and make it the compulsory replacement.

          I didn't pursue history in my final two years because it did not interest me, but I don't see anyone calling for that to be scrapped. It is important to get a bit of everything in early secondary education to explore your interests.

      4. davenewman

        Re: A little bit of knowledge does no harm - it's essential

        One thing I learned in my GCEs that were useful later? Well,

        1. From RK, how the Bible was written by 4 groups of people, helped me when a Jehovah's Witness came around.

        2. I still use some of the French I learned (although if I had been taught by the techniques now used to teach adults, I would be able to speak it fast enough to keep up with Frenchmen).

        3. I learned enough trigonometry to be able to navigate a yacht.

      5. Vic

        Re: A little bit of knowledge does no harm - it's essential

        > Name one thing you learnt doing GCSEs that has been of any use to you in life after school?

        Well, I didn't do GCSEs - but I did learn some rudimentary woodwork and metalwork skills at that age. They've stood me in good stead...


    4. streaky

      Re: A little bit of knowledge does no harm - it's essential

      "you will just get the geeks whose parents were probably geeks as programmers"

      My parents are still-computer clueless despite how much I teach them and how many laptops I buy them, so I find this sentiment a little bit offensive.

      People who will be good at computing subjects will naturally gravitate to them, end of story.

  5. jake Silver badge

    This is part of the "no child left behind" mindset.

    In reality, not all children are born to be blacksmiths. Or painters. Or stonemasons. Or writers. Or shepherds. Or brewers. Or cooks. Or ... well, you get the idea.

    Instead of dragging all the kids who are good at thing back in the name of the politically-correct "all kids created equal", how about allowing kids with exceptional ability in (whatever) to advance?

    Honestly, my mind boggles.

    1. Norman Hartnell

      Re: This is part of the "no child left behind" mindset.

      I hate the current railing against "elitism" from the know-nots. They would be the first to complain if their football team didn't field elite players, or their medical treatments weren't by highly-skilled professionals, but they also feel threatened by the intelligentsia, so try to drag everyone down to their level.

      Any child who shows aptitude in any field should be encouraged to become part of the elite in it, without fear of social stigma.

    2. Steve Renouf

      Re: This is part of the "no child left behind" mindset.

      and the rest of the PC mindset that breeds the troublemakers that are the bane of society - through a total lack of any "proper" discipline!

    3. disgruntled yank Silver badge

      Re: This is part of the "no child left behind" mindset.

      NCLB is part of the American mindset that says that one can carry out policies by issue mission statements. If King Canute had thought this way, he would be remembered for having drowned. It's sort of like the old Soviet 5-year plans, only instead of sending kulaks to the Gulag we shuffle kids from one bad school to another.

      Having said that, NCLB is not so much a response to kids coming out of high school without calculus as to kids coming out of grade school unable to read, write, add, or subtract. A few of these unfortunates may not have the wits to add 2 and 2, or to read "the cat sat on the mat". Most of them are in bad schools and have families not in a position to help them. In any case, NCLB is not keeping little Newtons from doing calculus because little Smithers haven't figured out fractions.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is part of the "no child left behind" mindset.

      EVERYONE should be reuired to read Steven Piker's "The Blank Slate" so that they understand where this mindset comes from and can actively help to eradicate it.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Coding isn't for everyone...

    ...but then again neither is geography, PE, chemistry, maths or any other subject currently taught at schools. The point is, of course, to expose the pupils to the subject and see if they have any interest or talent in that field.

    We may not see the programming equivalent of an Einstein or Newton but we may see a few kids that come up with ideas that make a difference.

  7. James Pickett

    "addressing system-level problems using presentational-level thinking and tools"

    Which is perhaps an argument for not teaching Powerpoint! I'd also rather children learned a bit about coding than how to use the latest (and obsolete by the time they leave school) version of MS Office. My son's school has just updated theirs, at hideous expense, when they already have, and use, Open Office! I'd far rather they'd blown the money on Raspberry Pi's...

  8. James Cooke

    So how do you teach coding?

    RCJ may be somewhat misguided but I firmly believe real programming should be taught at an early stage alongside other staples such as the sciences and maths and english. Not everyone will go on to take it at GCSE/Standard Grade level but without any prior exposure surely very few will?

    Case in point my 12 YO cousins recently produced apps for android at school. I'm pretty sure this was done through an app builder but it got her really excited about the possibilities. She could well go on to do CS at GCSE where hopefully she would actually be taught some real programming and some of the theory behind CS.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So how do you teach coding?

      I wish I could've done CS at school, I had to pick triple science and two humanities subjects just to get of doing either art or business studies.

    2. Justicesays

      Re: So how do you teach coding?

      I did a GCSE in CS,

      As I remember it involved the history of EFTPOS systems, using spreadsheets / turning on a computer and other mindless rubbish. At no point was any programming done.

      A Level Computer science was apparently mostly about VLSI, and no university considered having A-level computer science in any way worthwhile from what I was told.

      So expect that excitement to be well and truly worn out of your sister before she gets to do anything worthwhile in school! But maybe I am wrong, and GCSE/A level CS now teaches programming (I dont count HTML web page design as programming).

      I taught myself to program in BASIC, age 9 , and the first formal lessons I had were at university, (Using Modula 3 to start with). Because I had already learned how to program, uni taught me the following things other than new language syntax:

      1) Recursion

      2) OO

      3) Functional and Logical Programming

      4) Not to expect your coursemates to do any of the shard project work

      5) How to program a solitaire program in 2 hours before it had to be handed in.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So how do you teach coding?

        > 3) Functional and Logical Programming

        Haskell... *nightmares*

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So how do you teach coding?

          I didn't mind haskell or prolog. Clips on the other hand was a prick, if only because it used lisp-like bracketing and they didn't see fit to use highlighting to show which bracket you were closing. I was forever copying and pasting from a proper text editor.

      2. Chris Redpath

        Re: So how do you teach coding?

        I did GCSE CS back in the early 90s, and it certainly involved spreadsheets and databases but there was also some coding. I do also remember that there was lots of old-fashioned diagrams to learn and be able to waffle about. Truth be told, I don't think I learned a lot but by then I was almost 10 years into coding so it wasn't a surprise for me. I liked my teacher though, and we had fun in the lessons as well.

        We used to have coding lessons in my primary school too :)

  9. TerryG

    So how will kids know if they like programming

    unless they get a taste of it in school?

    I despair over the current level of ICT teaching in this country. It's focus on spreadsheets, word processing and presentations may be fine if we're trying to produce a nation of administrators, but it's not a hell of a lot of use if we need IT professionals. We may not need to push them through five years of Python and C, but a few modules of basic programming spread over the years, along side some networking and lessons on how the boxes actually work would do everybody some good and might encourage more kids to explore the subject more deeply.

  10. Dr. Mouse

    I agree... to a point.

    The viewpoint in the article makes some excellent points, although it misses some too.

    I believe that part of the reason our (UK) education system has been well regarded throughout the world is that it starts with a broad base but, through GCSE, A-Level and Degree becomes specialised very quickly.

    IMHO, the way to introduce kids to programming is to start in primary school. Teach them all a very basic programming language to show them an introduction to coding. This just adds to the broad base of knowledge every kid is exposed to in primary education.

    This can be expanded at the beginning of high school (probably as a small part of regular IT lessons). This will then allow those who are interested to take it further at GCSE level etc. This is how other subjects are taught, and it is a very good way to introduce subjects and encourage those with interest or skill in those areas.

    Oh, and the courses need to distinguish between programming and ****ing HTML! That confusion winds me up no end!

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      HTML != coding

      <blockquote>the courses need to distinguish between programming and ****ing HTML! That confusion winds me up no end!</blockquote>

      Argh!!! These people need to beaten around the head with a steel 2by4 with somebody screaming "HTML is a document markup system" until they get it.

      Oo look, if I click here and drag along and let got, then click on the 'B' button the text is all bold. Wow! I'm programming in MSWord!

  11. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    In the 1960s I went to one of the (new) big comprehensive schools. What I, and my peers gained more than anything else was that we actually had a taste of a wide range of languages, arts and engineering. Within one term we all pretty much knew what our interests were and were streamed accordingly.

    This is where I would like to see programming fit in, not as a must-do separate entity, which will be slow enough to frustrate those with natural talent and esoteric enough to bore the rest out of their skulls.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Will Godfrey

      Oh dear, you've said the naughty word, streamed. There was streaminng in the comprehensive I went to. The top three did proper O-levels, the next four did CSEs while the bottom three finger painted no matter what the lesson was. Nobody complained and in general we all came out the other end prepared for our expected position in society.

      Nowadays everybody is lumped together for fear of the finger painters thinking they are dumb. Well let's get this straight they are dumb, they knew it then, they know it now and they couldn't give a toss. The only way they won't be left behind is by getting all the others to finger paint and that is what is happening.

      Bring back streaming, either that or ban private education or force politicians to send their children to state schools.

      1. Arrrggghh-otron

        Re: @Will Godfrey

        Would I be right in thinking that the finger painters have made it into positions of power? (Think Governments, Banks and Business boardrooms).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          Actually I think the ones who didn't end up in prison became journalists.

      2. The Axe

        Re: @Will Godfrey

        The finger painters typically become the entrepreneurs of the future - so long as they have the drive, otherwise they becomes the manual labourers that society does still need. We still need toilet cleaners.

    2. The Indomitable Gall

      @Will Godfrey

      "This is where I would like to see programming fit in, not as a must-do separate entity, which will be slow enough to frustrate those with natural talent and esoteric enough to bore the rest out of their skulls."


      My first taste of programming in school was a bit of Logo. It was integrated with the "angles" part of the primary maths syllables: right-angles, squares, triangles, circles. But while a Logo-led syllabus would have required the teaching of internal angles in convex n-sided polygons, and of mathematical functions( f(n) = (n-2) /180 ), that wasn't on the primary syllabus, so we didn't have the fundamental grounding to do anything useful with the turtle graphics anyway. In the end, I never learnt about internal angles on arbitrary polygons until university.

      Computer programming CANNOT be an isolated, modularised, standalone subject. It must be linked to the rest of the syllabus, thus showing that there's a reason for it and actually helping illustrate topics being taught.

  12. Mint Sauce

    The only thing they need to be taught is...

    ... that matching pairs of braces should be indented to the same level. Any of that putting the opening brace at the end of a line malarkey, and it's 10 lashes of the cane for them!

    Er... :-) (mostly ;-)

    1. AndrueC Silver badge

      Re: The only thing they need to be taught is...

      > matching pairs of braces should be indented to the same level

      Or just do your work in BCPL. Then you can close a whole load of nested braces in one go:

      $(1 $( $( $( $( $( $( $( $)1


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The only thing they need to be taught is...

        And try LISP if you really want to scare them.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The only thing they need to be taught is...

      "Any of that putting the opening brace at the end of a line malarkey, and it's 10 lashes of the cane for them!"

      You have a lot of work to do over at Google. You may also want to avoid the Android source code.


      1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        Re: Re: The only thing they need to be taught is...

        Man, I really dislike source code {

        that does this


  13. Rupert Stubbs

    Teach thinking, not facts.

    Gradgrind was wrong: facts can now be summoned from the vasty deeps of the interweb without us having to store them permanently in our heads.

    Indeed, the whole business of learning a specialised set of facts was just part of the barrier to entry that the Professions instigated. As the Professions become less and less relevant, so the emerging careers require less pure retaining of facts and more ability to reshape and rethink ways of doing things. This doesn't mean that no knowledge is required - in many ways more knowledge, of more things, is needed. However, introducing children to tools which can fundamentally reshape the stuff they experience digitally can only be a good idea.

    1. Dr. Mouse

      Re: Teach thinking, not facts.

      I both agree and disagree with you here.

      In the workplace, it is often not necessary to hold all the information you require in your head at once. Some facts will be forgotten, and can be looked up. As an example, I often consult man pages and documentation while working to find an obscure syntax which I know exists, but I don't know exactly what it is. This is the same in every proffession and doesn't require the internet: an engineer can look up Laplace transforms in a book, for example.

      The problem with this is that to work in this way, the person needs to know it in the first place, know that it exists. The best way to do this is to make those studying learn those facts. This embeds their use into the mindet of the person learning, allowing them to recall their existence year's later. If they have used them day-in day-out for 25 years, they will know them by heart. If they haven't touched them in 25 years, they will know they exist and be able to look up the facts in order to use them.

      As for "the Professions become less and less relevant", pull the other one! "The Proffessions" are, in essence, people specialised in a particular field. We will always need this, and we will increasingly need such specialism as human knowledge grows. It doesn't matter that all the information is available at our fingertips: if we do not know it exists in the first place, how are we to find it when we need it?

  14. RobL

    Andrew - you are wrong.

    Andrew - I think you are missing the point of compulsory coding in schools.

    I'm a programmer. I'm not a carpenter, although I did some carpentry at school. I'm not a chef, although I learnt to cook some things at school. I'm not a tailor, although they taught us how to sew. I'm not a writer, although they taught us how to write, and how to read critically.

    If you introduce children to programming in schools (maybe not throughout their whole school career but for part of it), you will get different outcomes for different students - just as in every subject. For some, they won't enjoy it and it'll be a waste of time. For some it'll give them an overview and a bit of insight, but ultimately they won't directly use the skills. Interesting enough though. But for some it'll expose them to something that completely inspires them and harnesses their analytical and logical skills.

    School is as much about learning what interests you, what you can be, and what you are good at as it is about learning skills you will definitely be using throughout your life. Your article seems to completely miss this point.

    My driving question for supporting coding in schools is: how many great potential coders are there out there that don't even know it? How many that would never think to apply themselves to programming, or wouldn't otherwise have the chance to get started.

    I don't like to speak in absolutes too much (ok I do) - but you are wrong.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Andrew - you are wrong.


      You make a good argument for teaching any one of 500 (or 5,000) subjects. It's not an argument for compulsory programming.

      "how many great potential coders are there out there that don't even know it?"

      Fair point. How many great potential pastry chefs or brewers are out there that don't even know it?

      You're making the case for a broader education, not specifically for why programming should be a compulsory part of the curriculum.

      " it'll expose them to something that completely inspires them and harnesses their analytical and logical skills."

      Really? HTML. Drag and drop smartphone apps. Now you're projecting.

      1. Bronek Kozicki
        Thumb Down

        Re: Andrew - you are wrong.

        "You're making the case for a broader education, not specifically for why programming should be a compulsory part of the curriculum."

        I disagree. With proliferation of embedded (or not) computers into everyday life, programming becomes crucial part of making designs how things work, and not just what you can see on a PC in front of you (think telephones, digital cameras, MP3 players, programmable calculators, television and attached accessories, cars, elevators or watches) . By this merit it is no longer comparable to a specific jobs like carpentry or journalism. Since applications of programming skills are becoming broader by the year, it may eventually become comparable to vast range of applications of subjects such as maths or physics. And without those you would not have *any* engineers.

        By this token I believe it is important that kids should learn what programming is actually about - I don't mean industry languages like C++ or ERLANG, by rather kind of thinking needed to be able to translate ideas between human and computer language (in both directions).

        1. Shakje

          Re: Andrew - you are wrong.

          The problem with this whole argument against the article is that you might have to fix shelves to a wall when you buy your own house (potentially even make a wardrobe or something?), you might have to fix your own clothes when you get a hole in them, you might have to, occasionally, cook some food. These are life skills that could be seen to be useful in day-to-day situations. How many people actually need to code on a day-to-day basis?

          I guess the counter to this is that it helps with logic, but this is where you're missing the point of the article (and maybe Andrew didn't state it strongly enough in the article, or I'm just misreading him). Being taught a bit of HTML and CSS does not help logic skills. It maybe helps a bit with spatial awareness (nothing near as useful as an FPS I would wager), but not with the logical and mathematical skills that come with coding. The worse problem is that these are the very things that people find intimidating and frightening about coding, the things that make it seem arcane and confusing. What do you think the net effect is if we teach them something which has no relation to this? It just makes the other things more arcane.

          At the end of the day, the skills that you get from coding at a lower level only come when you use a "grown-up" language. This doesn't have to be C, or C#, or even Java, but something as simple as Logo. Just something simple that controls a turtle, and that idea of you put something in, and something comes out. Later on this can be fleshed out with the concepts of control structures, and then OO. The silly thing is, this shouldn't be that hard. Kids are smart, and they're able to grasp this stuff (I mean even just grade it, so that the people that demonstrate understanding of the higher concepts get better marks etc.).

          Maybe something like 0x10c in fact.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Andrew - you are wrong.

        But this is entirely at odds with a comprehensive education system.

        "School" as we know it is about academic study and grammar schools. People cry out against the 11+ and the multi-streamed education system but this is precisely the reason why we had vocational schools that pursued a completely different line in education from the purely academic.

        We now have the point that the secondary school has to cram in all the possibilities that children may have to choose from because we all have to be treated the same. That includes the cooking, the metalwork, the sewing/art/fashion etc.

        If we could just sort out early on who will be academically oriented and those more suited to practical skills then schools could once again focus on the purely academic and let vocational colleges properly help those with a more practical disposition. Each stream could offer a wider range of more relevant topics.

        1. SimonX

          Re: Andrew - you are wrong.

          That's fine Skelband, as long as children divide easily into your nice, simple categories.

          Academics over here please, labourers over there through the door marked Epsilon Semi-Moron

      3. localzuk Silver badge

        Re: Andrew - you are wrong.

        @Andrew Orlowski

        Hang on a sec - are you saying that pastry chefs are a key aspect of our society, going to grow our economy and propel the country forward? Or brewers?

        Or, is the IT industry more likely to do that?

        What people are saying is that the current crop of 'IT skills' being taught in schools are not doing anything to help anyone, but including computer science skills would likely do so. Instilling a basic knowledge of how 'computing' actually works means that you will have a group of kids who enjoy it and pursue it, a group who found it interesting but won't pursue it but will have a more logical understanding of their computers and will make life easier for business to employ them without having the show them how to use a web browser, and then there will be a group who just hate it.

        Also, you're using a terrible argument with regards the actual curriculum to be taught. Has it been specified as HTML and drag and drop smartphone apps? Not that I know of. It'd be like saying cookery lessons are pointless as they'll only get shown how to make toast.

    2. Naughtyhorse

      Re: Andrew - you are wrong.

      how many great potential coders are there out there that don't even know it?

      prolly none TBH. if you are interested you'll get there on your own (pretty much everyone here today did). Help those who want to know, for sure, but compulsory? i don't think so.

      Apart from anything else if the syllabus is anything less than coding high level compilers in binary, or simlar, there's always some git who'll point and say "but that's not _real_ coding - real coding is done, blindfold, on horseback, in a hurricane, with the project spec being screamed at you in Chinese, by a non Chinese speaking German" - a bit like the jouro in the story. HTML and CSS may not be the pinnacle of the coders art, but for a bloke who only surfs and emails, on a 1 day course... i think it's enough of a glimpse behind the curtain.

  15. JDX Gold badge

    We force every single child to take Maths to GCSE level, which is mostly stuff of no use. Why is this different to programming?

    For English/History/Geography it's different as they teach you general things about the world you live in, but forcing education in Maths and science would naturally extend to computing.

    Don't force everyone to do it a long time though - show them some basics and then see who is interested taking it further.

    1. NinjasFTW

      <quote>For English/History/Geography it's different as they teach you general things about the world you live in</quote>

      I guess that really depends on your perspective. For me maths/physic/chem teach me about the world I live in. I personally don't care what King beheaded what wife or the population density of Blackpool/

      I understand that it important to some people and that is fine.

      I would rather see an early broad education and then allow the student to pick what they want to do later on. Similar to Montessori themed education.

    2. Norman Hartnell

      A knowledge of maths helps non-mathematicians to do the shopping, compare electricity tariffs, determine fuel consumption, follow recipes, work out who owns what in restaurants, work out how many tins of paint you need to cover a room, how much material you need to make a dress, how many bags of fertiliser you need to cover the garden, etc, etc, etc. A good grounding in maths is more useful to the general public than you imply.

      1. JDX Gold badge

        No, shopping and phone/utility tariffs, etc are not GCSE level math. They are primary school level arithmetic. Basic arithmetic skills absolutely should be compulsory but even GCSE is beyond that level - simple algebra, trigonometry, etc.

        The only 'useful' bit of real maths to the typical person is basic probability, to understand gambling :)

        1. Vic

          > The only 'useful' bit of real maths to the typical person is basic probability


          Algebra is the way you turn problems into results. Everyone uses it, even if they don't know the nomenclature.


    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Basic maths No.1 use in life is to stop you being conned....

      Loan interest, energy tariffs, mobile phone/broadband contracts, etc, etc. All designed specifically to be confusing in the hope that people just give up and pay it, without comparing it to a rival one (cos it's too difficult). And the biggest con of all, much beloved of politicians, the percentage! "The rate of change of the rise in the percentage rate of unemployment has dropped" they say. It's still going up though....just very slightly less fast than before.

      The other important thing is to have a rough "feel" for numbers, so you have a rough idea of what the answer *should * be. The number of times I've been under or overcharged in shops is proof this isn't happening. That and people insisting to the death that £14.99 is MUCH cheaper than £15....

      Also, as frequently used on the BBC website, graphs that don't start at zero, thus making a fluctuation appear much bigger than it actually is.

      Lies, damn lies and statistics, like the man said. Basic maths enables you to see through the lies for yourself.

      1. Philip Lewis

        Re: Basic maths No.1 use in life is to stop you being conned....

        "In the fall of 1972 President Nixon announced that the rate of increase of inflation was decreasing. This was the first time a sitting president used the third derivative to advance his case for reelection."

  16. king_tut

    I disagree with the article...

    Learning a bit of coding/programming is very valuable for everyone. Learning software engineering, and specific languages, would not be. Of course, the average IT curriculum, and quality of IT teaching, is very varied and generally poor - but that's a different question/point.

    Firstly, by giving kids an opportunity to try the subject, they can find out whether they enjoy it or not. The ones who do, can continue to learn. Those who do not, can move on to other things, maybe with a bit of an appreciation of the complexity (and tedium sometimes) of the subject.

    Secondly, as another reader commented, learning to code is more about learning to think. Learning to be logical and precise. Learning to ask awkward questions, test theories, push boundaries. And unlike most other classes, these lessons can be learnt in a reproducible way, with a minimum of other outside complexities to confuse the issues.

    Finally, programming is one of few subjects, especially when you use pseudo-code, where there is very little to learn/memorise. Unlike many subjects at GCSE and A-level, you don't do well in programming by memorising answers - you do it by being able to think in a specific way. That difference in focus is very valuable. (Yes, I know the aim with GCSE etc is to move more towards thinking, and away from memorising, but just look at the average syllabus...)

    1. Ross 7

      Re: I disagree with the article...

      You've hit both nails on the head - why learning programming skills is such a benefit to students, and why they'll never be taught programming skills.

      "learning to code is more about learning to think. Learning to be logical and precise. Learning to ask awkward questions, test theories, push boundaries" That helps students in their other subjects, and in their lives in general. If "engage brain" is step #1 in everything they do as a result of their training in programming skills the world just got an awful lot better.

      However - "Unlike many subjects at GCSE and A-level, you don't do well in programming by memorising answers - you do it by being able to think in a specific way". That's 100% true, but it also makes examining the subject impossible. By which I mean you need skilled examiners to mark the papers, which is expensive. All the exam boards are preferring multiple choice, single word/phrase answers etc, as they can pay minimum wage to monkeys to mark them.

      I personally think that teaching programming *skills* to kids would be hugely beneficial, and not only to the IT sector. I just don't see it ever being done properly :(

  17. maccy

    programming in schools is doomed by tick-box culture

    Even if they did decide to teach real programming, you can be sure that before you're allowed to write the program, you'll have to

    a) Write a full specification for it like the pros do

    b) Decide which programming methodology to follow - waterfall, agile etc.

    c) Finally write something that doesn't work

    d) be graded on a & b, with scant regard for the fact that it didn't work.

    Now, apart from the fact that this is good training for working on a large government IT contract, it just isn't how people get _interested_ in programming.

    And in case you think this won't happen, my son did a woodwork project where actually making the object was less than 25% of the overall work.

    1. Dr. Mouse

      Re: programming in schools is doomed by tick-box culture

      Although I don't like it myself, what is wrong with this.

      At the end of the day, this way of grading is about getting people to think rather than just do. So, if they have planned the project well, with good structure and style, but a couple of minor errors have stopped the programme from working, they should receive a good mark. In the real world the debugging would then begin.

      With the woodworking example, they look to be teaching "measure twice cut once". Plan it well before hand. The planning and design is the real skill, implementation is just following this plan.

    2. a cynic writes...

      Re: programming in schools is doomed by tick-box culture

      I've had a quick look at the GCSE assessment materials and thankfully I don't think that's the case.

    3. Anonymous Coward 101

      Re: programming in schools is doomed by tick-box culture

      Too true. I recall a programming assignment I did at Edinburgh Uni where only part of the mark was in successfully completing the task - the rest of the marks were given for planning the task, critiquing somebody else's work and so forth.

      I think this assignment (and others like it) was marked the way it was because they knew some folk just couldn't do the programming task but they didn't want to fail them, so they tag bullshit on the side to give marks to the duffers.

      1. Sooty

        Re: programming in schools is doomed by tick-box culture

        My final year degree project didn't work, a road traffic network simulation and route planner, don't knock it, it was before gps was a consumer technology... it compiled but i couldn't get it to initialise and work, I had to demonstrate the program/blank screen and present it.

        Because it was all documented, designed and laid out, how it was built and structured. How the concept of it worked, the fact that it didn't actually work was a fairly minor issue in it. I clearly lost marks for it, but it wasn't a total write off. I could pick up the designs now, 10+ years later, and build it with the same core functionality, which was solid, with few changes other than at the presentation layer which is what let me down.

        That's the joy of coding, a well structured design can have chunks of the implementation swapped out for others with no impact... It may be the "physical" payoff, but the end code is only one of many important stages... My life would be so much easier if "putting something live on time" wasn't the primary measure of success

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Let's get the Toby Young straw man argument out of the way (not that we need take anything he says or writes seriously!). There's nothing in the idea of teaching all children to do some programming that means we can't teach some children to be real programmers.

    Any generalised IT teaching in schools needs to include just enough hands on coding to teach kids that PCs, phones, etc are not black boxes inside which magic happens. From that base, we then need the IT exam syllabus to teach real conceptual and analysis skills and programming. For example, you might reasonably expect an A-Level student to have acquired the skills necessary to design and build an Android app, get rich, and start look after their parents for a change (I can dream...)

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Hobble-de-hoi

      "There's nothing in the idea of teaching all children to do some programming that means we can't teach some children to be real programmers."

      There is, and it's called opportunity cost. Teaching time is not infinite, so he one hour a week spent getting 30 pupils to dick about with HTML is an hour not spent doing teaching the good codeers those conceptual and analysis skills.

      1. PassiveSmoking

        Re: Hobble-de-hoi

        Tell you what, Maths is difficult and the adult numeracy figures show that it's not doing much good anyway, so lets scrap maths education whilst we're at it. After all, the opportunity cost isn't worth it.

        1. Anonymous Coward 101
          Thumb Up

          Re: Hobble-de-hoi

          "Tell you what, Maths is difficult and the adult numeracy figures show that it's not doing much good anyway, so lets scrap maths education whilst we're at it. After all, the opportunity cost isn't worth it."

          Or, lets scrap relatively teaching advanced maths (or computer programming) for people who have not mastered simple maths, so that we can teach them simple maths instead?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hobble-de-hoi

        But since we are teaching them 'IT' any way, that's not an issue. And if you can forget HTML for a moment, we might include Logo, Squeak, or any of a number of easy ways into real programming on the syllabus.

      3. Tel Starr

        Re: Hobble-de-hoi

        How do you know who the good coders are if no one ever has the chance to code?

        How do you prioritise resources when you don't know where to concentrate them?

  19. Anonymous Custard

    Isn't this also just another variation of the old "use calculators vs being able to add-up" debate in maths teaching?

    For me we need a distinction between those who need to "work with" computers (ie operate them - the PowerPoint brigade) and those who need to "work on" computers (ie program the damn things and actually write PowerPoint the program itself). The failing has been that "computing" (or ICT or whatever they're calling the subject in schools this week) has morphed from one to the other rather than maintaining both streams.

    I compare what I learned in school all those eons ago (the joys of BBC basic and the Model B) compared to what my kids currently do (PowerPoint and similar "application use") and it makes me want to cry.

    I'm no programmer (I dabble in Javascript coding for open-source game modding). What saddens me is when I hear new members of our game community coming in full of enthusiasm and wanting to join in such work (which I'm all for supporting and encouraging). Many of them have been told they are "good at computers", but it's then found that haven't a clue at all how to program (or even any idea of the concept behind programming in many cases) having never even been introduced to it. Apparently the equivalent of the "hello world" first program, the one often written on computers on display in Curry's in the early 80s, these days makes you "an advanced expert" in computing.

    Certainly most people who take the subject do only need to know how to work a computer, but for those how have the potential and desire to know more and go deeper, the opportunity should equally be there. If it has to be at home with a Raspberry Pi plugged into the TV then so be it, but it should be for school to educate.

    But then as others have said, programming isn't simple and takes some work and effort to get right (and you can get it very frustratingly wrong repeatedly), which isn't in line with modern "I want everything now delivered on a plate in easy no-fail bite-sized chunks" so maybe we're doomed after all...

  20. Christopher Rogers

    Is the focus on this wrong?

    Since computers or computing is going to be part of human life from the get go (how many babies are already in pictures on facebook) then surely computing should become a topic just like Science/maths/English/History, with programming being one of the key theories contained within that topic. We need to move ICT away from word processing and spreadsheets and more into coding, networking etc.

  21. James Hughes 1

    Missed the point? or did I?

    Lots of subjects are taught at schools. Not all of them are 'useful' once a person leaves school - but they are all useful for the all round education of children. Computer programming just need to be one of those. There a many many people out there who would probably be fantastic software people, but have never been introduced to it. This is the chance to introduce another subject, find out who is good, bad, indifferent, and stream them appropriately. This country (UK) is very short of decent softies, it's time to teach more people, to fill that gap,

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Missed the point? or did I?

      I dunno James, you're not selling it to me. Let's agree there's a dearth of good (elite) coders, that the UK economy would benefit from more, and encouraging the talented (maybe by streaming) in the education system would help create more.

      What in buggery has that got to do with 15 year olds learning HTML?

      1. Dr. Mouse

        Re: Missed the point? or did I?

        "What in buggery has that got to do with 15 year olds learning HTML?"

        I think everyone here agrees that when we are talking about teaching programming in schools, we are not talking about HTML.

      2. localzuk Silver badge

        Re: Missed the point? or did I?

        Where do you keep on getting HTML from? You're fixated on a single aspect of a much larger proposal - teaching computer science instead of ICT. Just an FYI - HTML is already taught to all kids! They have to do a web development module as part of the current KS3 curriculum.

        But they're also taught how to make Powerpoint presentations, or type something in Word. They are completely useless lessons - whereas teaching fundamentals of computer science aren't useless, as they teach logic and critical thinking, and with programming, also some creativity.

        Stop focusing on your perception of what will be taught, and look at the bigger picture.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Extending the painting anology

    >You can certainly learn a lot about paint in a day

    But that won't teach you anythinng. The first thing you should learn about painting is that preparation is everything.

    Dibbing about with a bit of Noddy code is like painting over rotten wood/loose plaster/rusty ironwork/you get the idea. The result might look good on the surface but it won't take long before you need to do it all again and unless you do it properly, again and again and again until you learn the right way or get a professional in to do it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Extending the painting anology

      Nah - the first thing you need to know about painting is how to draw. And the first thing you need to know about drawing is how to look.

      Oh, sorry - you meant the other sort of painting

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        If you wish to be flippant I would suggest that in the context of painting of the art variety the first thing you should learn is how light interacts with the subject.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @FatsBrannigan

          I don't wish to be flippant - I just am

          In fact my point is that art has more in common with programming than decorating does.

          And re 'learning how light interacts with the subject' - that (and many other equally important things) come as part of 'looking'.

  23. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Pushing the rock

    > computer programming is a meritocracy. Not everyone will get a prize, and nobody should get a prize just for trying

    In a lot of places that's exactly what happens.

    "Smith, it's time for your annual review. I see from your timesheets you've been working 60 hours a week. Excellent. Keep up the good work."

    "Jones. It seems you've been getting in late and leaving early. We can't have that sort of behaviour, you're going to have to pull your socks up."

    Far too many IT departments (and companies in general) reward effort: how much energy you expend trying to move a mysterious bug or a large rock, rather than the results achieved: one person with a JCB gets more done[1] in 10 minutes than an army of rock-pushers (especially if they're arranged in a circle - as that's the obvious way to apply more people to the task) does in a week.

    However since too many decision-makers and salary-deciders have no methods for measuring IT productivity (which, for a lot of so-called IT "staff", is the only reason they still have a job) they decide your fate based on what they can quantify.

    So instead of teaching children to code, maybe they would be more successful if they were taught to sleep with their eyes open. Although a lot of kids in a lot of classrooms seem to have already mastered that art.

    [1] Or causes more damage, depending on skill and training.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pushing the rock

      >and nobody should get a prize just for trying

      When it comes to education children should get a prize for trying albeit in the form of encouragement. In a reply to an earlier post I mentioned streaming. So as not to over complicate the point I left out that it was possible to switch streams so a lazy child could drop down or one who showed ability could move up. If the child who tried wasn't encouraged to try harder they would never better themselves.Sometimes it's better to have someone who is willing to learn than someone who is intelligent but can't be bothered to work.

    2. Sooty

      Re: Pushing the rock

      You'd better believe it, IT departments reward based on visibility, not merit, if you consistently create outstanding code nobody notices. If it just goes along, meets/exceeds it's milestones and works perfectly, then you're screwed!

      If its a total bag of scanners causing massive issues and losing loads of money, and you fix a few bits of it when it's balls on the chopping block time, you will be a golden employee, even if you are the one who got it into that state in the first place


    The arrival of Raspberry Pi needs to cause a "ripple" in education. In the late 80s, early 90s Design and Technology really took off in some schools. Some? Well yes, because Design and Technology grew out of Craft Design and Technology (Woodwork and Metalwork to the really ancient!), and it was a really innovative subject, with Control alongside Graphics and Realisation.

    At its core?

    Design (I was a Design Educator amd teacher before I got into ICT and local Government). This isn't about a lot of people having deep knowledge, but ensuring that everyone can be an informed and intelligent user and consumer with the knowledge to go on and update themselves.

    So why didn't the Technology component take off in Design and Technology then? Well it did....whereever a teacher was either skilled, knowledgeable or willing to learn. A lot of money was spent on kits and schemes. Still, it faltered because it was taught by people who often resorted to "step-by-step" instruction instead of inspiration and creativity. They weren't expert enough to know how to make it interesting for the majority. They killed it by stealth. There simply weren't the skills around - and those skills stretch to understanding how to make it interesting enough to engage in learning (or they confused the heck out of students because they didn't understand it themselves).

    So, along comes Raspberry Pi. My feeling is that it may meet the same issues. The teachers to teach the skills need to be confident, keen, ready..... I suspect (listening for any noise at all) they will not be, but I look forward to that all kicking off.

    In my day organisations such as Nottingham Trent were leading in tech programmes - focusing on getting good teachers better equipped. While I wonder where the "trends" of today are , Raspberry Pi could end up as an expensive replacement for that (also very expensive) Powerpoint regurgitation too often the symptom of another failed teaching initiative! Poor teaching could well turn more future programmers off, than on. Get the training right - or else its "Here we go again"

    That "ripple" by the way, should be excitement.

  25. Paul Sanders

    It might help give children a better model of what a computer is and does

    As someone who has been horrified to discover that I children were being taught Powerpoint and Excel in their "IT" lessons at what is otherwise a good school, I would hope that a bit of hello world would open up a real world of possibilities for those who get the plot. And that I think is the importance and benefit of it, even if it does mean a few smug journalists getting to pretend to be miners because they put on a hard hat for a day and needed a manicure to reestablish normality.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: It might help give children a better model of what a computer is and does

      Excel is a tool for doing lots of things. Eg,

      A spreadsheet is essential for running a budget, or a business. Why would anyone have a problem with schoolchildren learning something so useful?

      1. PassiveSmoking

        Re: It might help give children a better model of what a computer is and does

        Do they actually teach kids to use the more sophisticated statistical analysis features of a modern spreadsheet package? Or do they just teach them to enter grids of numbers (and maybe to add up columns)?

        1. The Mole

          Re: It might help give children a better model of what a computer is and does

          Well my wife successfully taught most of her class of 10 year old's how to use features like sum, average and conditional formatting in excel. Being still in primary school averages is the limit of their statistical knowledge. Conditional formatting however is teaching the basics of programming, I don't know whether secondary school will actually progress them beyond this level of excel usage but there is hope. The biggest issue however is the fact that many teachers are still scared of computers and probably don't even know that conditional cell formatting even exists let alone how to teach it.

      2. Anonymous Coward 101

        Re: It might help give children a better model of what a computer is and does

        "Why would anyone have a problem with schoolchildren learning something so useful?"

        Because 'real programmers' think people who use Excel in their jobs are subhuman. That is the only reason.

        1. Anonymous Coward 15

          Re: It might help give children a better model of what a computer is and does

          Excel is useful for some things. But it is NOT A DATABASE.

          1. Philip Lewis

            Re: It might help give children a better model of what a computer is and does

            Fucking-A, and the next time my boss comes to me with his broken EXCEL solution to a data problem that cannot be logically expressed within the context of SQL, I may resort to physical violence.

            When you have a data problem, ask a data analyst who understand schemas and data, DO NOT REACH FOR EXCEL!

      3. nemo20000

        Re: It might help give children a better model of what a computer is and does

        Spreadsheets (of which Excel is but one) ARE useful tools used for important jobs... but usage of them should be part of maths (or business, or physics as appropriate) and NOT “computing”.

      4. Paul Sanders

        Re: It might help give children a better model of what a computer is and does

        In the context of maths, economics, or the basics of business, or even personal budgeting I would not think anyone should have a problem with children learning the use Excel. But where they are presented with the idea that a computer is a black box that runs Excel and Powerpoint, and given no idea about how those tools could possibly have come into existence, it looks like a missed opportunity to me. I make a connection between booting up to a command line at school, and a cohort of world class developers. I might be wrong of course.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Compulsory opportunity, not compulsory tuition

    Surely it would be better if it was compulsory that the opportunity to learn to program is made available, rather than the actual learning is made compulsory?

    So the pupil is aware that computing isn't just PowerPoint et al (ie not modern ICT teaching), and that if they want to know in more depth then the opportunity is available to them to learn (unlike now in most cases).

    Don't make people who don't want to do it learn to code, but damn well ensure that those who do have the means at their disposal to actually learn!

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    if ( (maths == good) || (science = good) )

    { echo "You are welcome to learn programming"; }

    else { echo "it's probably not for you, move on."; }

    1. PassiveSmoking

      Re: optional

      Your if statement will always return true because you'e assigning the value 'good' to 'science', not checking if science has the value good.

      You need to do some programming courses, I think :)

    2. Dr. Mouse

      Re: optional

      First off, ensure your operators are correct. Yours aren't.

      Second, I have known people who were not good at maths and science, but made good programmers (and engineers). They had to work very hard when it came to the mathsy bits, but their immagination and logical thinking allowed them to produce fantastic code.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: optional

        Some of the finest analytical minds I have met in the IT world, were also, coincidentally(?), multi-lingual (i.e. they spoke 3-4 real languages fluently plus a couple of others at a pinch). The fact that they also had higher degrees in math and/or engineering and IQs that would get them into Mensa without a sweat might have helped, but the multi-lingual thing seems to me to be a recurring theme.

        I have been in this industry for close to 30 years and had 100s of people work directly for me, so my sample space is sufficently large to have made some observations about the "gifted" and the "ordinary". Suffice it to say, the gifted are an order of magnitude better than the ordinary, and that is being polite to the ordinary.

    3. nemo20000

      Re: optional

      Schoolboy error in line 1. You’d be happier in BASIC. ;-)

    4. Debe

      Re: optional

      I got a G in maths, I didn’t even know grades could go that low… and two C’s in science.

      Obviously I’m just too dense to be doing my job! It’s amazing I’ve escaped detection for the past 6 years but now that the jig is up I had best scarper before someone informs the authorities.

    5. Anonymous Coward

      Re: optional

      You are a nasty elitist|un-progressive|captialist|$SetOfOtherLeftistSwearwords.

      I'll report you to the PC police for reeducation !

  28. Ru

    "Some of the most brilliant programmers I know have no academic qualifications whatsoever "

    These people are unusual, though; they're particularly gifted, and most of the rest of us are simply not like that. I know a number of competent coders with no academic experience, but by and large they've tended to flounder when taken very far out of their comfort zone. The programming world is not short of esoteric concepts that are either unintuitive, difficult to learn, or both.

    Anyway, I digress.

    "I, for one, do not want to watch the same thing happen to British IT businesses"

    Did the textile mills go bust due to lack of skilled technical staff, or because they became uneconomical? Modern day code mills have been moving to China and India and the like for ages, and teaching our schoolchildren how to grind out HTML and PHP is not necessarily going to do them any favours, and I don't hold out much faith that more complex programming languages or techniques would be taught at any school.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Some of the most brilliant programmers I know have no academic qualifications whatsoever "

      Many European (including British) software companies do quite well in the face of Asian competition. What they still haven't achieved in India and China is the same breadth and depth of academic research and education.

      They are turning out what is properly labelled "code monkey", while a proper western uni will teach solid theory and concepts, plus some programming language, OS and database skills. This will prepare students for conceptual work, while most asians are only prepared to code something which has already been specified en detail.

      So yes, proper CS education makes plenty of sense.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Quoting Toby Young might go a bit better if his 'free' school wasn't going to push Latin on the poor sprogs who attend based on even more spurious arguments than used for compulsory coding. And also if he wasn't a massive arsehole.

    1. James Hughes 1

      I did Latin

      Never did me any harm. In fact, probably did me some good. And I was really really crap at it. And it was compulsory.


      1. moonface

        Re: I did Latin

        I wish I did Latin at school but it was not for oiks likes of me. Aggregated society deems we can't have too many state school kids having a leg up and decoding the language barrier that leads to elitist jobs in medical, legal, clerical and (latin)olgy professions.

        As for encouraging coders of the future. I would favour the creation of a whole new school subject for everyone, such as 'Algorithms and Logic'. Computer programming being but a component for practical demonstrations. Hey even throw in a bit of basic Project Management.

        I am sure everyone could benefit, from being be taught a bit of logic.

        1. Philip Lewis

          Re: I did Latin

          Serious question from a non-UK person.

          Don't you learn logic at school?

          I mean what does "x AND y OR b" mean and why?

      2. Pete 2 Silver badge

        Re: I did Latin

        It's not a question of teaching/not-teaching Latin, or any other subject. It's more a question of

        "if we want to teach <subject>, what do we drop from the curriculum to make room for it?"

        Around here, children get a bit less than 25 hours a week of being taught. There's only so much that can be squeezed into that time. Should Latin or computing be included - and if so at the expense of what?

        1. The BigYin

          Re: I did Latin

          "Should Latin or computing be included - and if so at the expense of what?"

          Children have parents and guardians. If they feel that Latin (or anything else) is important, and not provided by the school, then those parents and guardians can solve the problem themselves.

  30. a cynic writes...

    Coding is the same as anything else - you won't know if you have a talent for it until you have a go, and strangely the more you do the more talented you get.

    Personally I like the way my lad's school works. Having made sure they can use the basic office programs in year 7, they introduced them to coding with Scratch in year 8 and moved onto Python in year 9. Some of them (those with an interest and a modicum of talent) can then go on to GCSE Computing.

    Or they could choose to continue with DT Resistant Materials (aka Woodwork) or Cooking or Electronics or....any of the other things we make them do at some point in the hope they might find where they have a talent.

    1. Andy Miller
      Thumb Up


      My 10-year-old has just been showing me Scratch ( - which was a new one on me.

      I am seriously impressed. It seems to hit a happy medium between 'real' programming (you have to build up a set of instructions and then run them) with instant feedback (things move around on the screen, make sounds etc).

      OK, it's not going to teach you how to find memory leaks in an multi-server deployment, but it is sooooo much better than fiddling with some HTML - both in what it teaches and the results you get.

      If you have kids (or you are one yourself), you should have a look at it.

      Seriously cool!

  31. cheever

    Curious starting position

    The initiative to teach all children a little about programming (actually, computing) is a good idea - it's difficult to think of a sensible argument against that basic principle. There's no expectation that all these kids will become professional programmers, or hardware experts, or web developers, or system administrators; simply that, when they make their own way in the world, they will have a little conceptual background understanding about what it is that makes a lot of the items that they interact with on a daily basis tick: software.

    Even the most cursory thoughts about the world that we live in - look up from the screen you are reading and count the number of pieces of software that are currently running in the space that you are in (let's not even think about the hardware that runs the software) - surely make education about the basics an absolute necessity; this should be the starting point of the discussion: how to educate people, not if.

    The idea that there are real coders and dilletante coders is essentially protectionism, driven by a sense of entitlement derived from achievement at the 'hairy arse' end of computing. While it is surely true that genuine experts in any field - even journalism - ultimately teach themselves, our world and communities are not populated by collections of experts, but collections of people getting by sharing bits of what they know. There will always be hairy arsed experts who want to get dirty with C++; great, we need them, without them none of the modern world works. That's not an argument for closing the door to knowledge behind them. They are in a different category to the vast majority of people who would benefit from knowing a little more than nothing about computing (as an aside, computing is not equivalent to software, as the writer appears to believe; a common mistake, but let's pretend for now that it is, as for most the distinction is irrelevant at this stage).

    Spending a day learning about coding - as Jones has done - is a brilliantly positive first step. I can't imagine the amount of insight many coders might gain from spending a day learning something outside their sphere of knowledge; perhaps a day's life drawing, or sound design, or fiction writing, or quantum electro thermodynamics, or game testing. There's no harm to be done, no downside. Jones now understands a little more of what occurs each time he clicks on a web page - great. I wouldn't expect him to know the full LAMP stack after one day. The notion is absurd. And why the LAMP stack? There is nothing eternal about it; the specifics are for the professionals. Concepts and ideas can be taught and transmitted - real knowledge is not acronym based.

    I believe our world to be immeasurably enriched by being populated with people whose level of general education on a great many topics incrementally increases with each generation. Let's not throw that idea away while we argue about whether HTML is more real than C, Unix hairier than iOS. Let's teach what we've learnt as best we can to as many as will listen.

  32. PassiveSmoking
    Thumb Down

    Primary school is all about giving the kids a little taste of everything to see what they like. If kids aren't ever exposed to coding at an early age, how will they ever know that it's something they want to pursue as a career in the future? We simply can't just rely on kids being geeky enough to want to teach themselves in the future. The BBC's Computer Literacy programme of the 80s had a huge influence on my career choice and I think efforts to recapture its spirit should be applauded.

    And I wish you'd keep these opinion pieces to your blog instead of plastering them all over a news site.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As several people have already commented, the importance is giving everyone a chance to find out whether programming is for them. I'd like to add that this includes those who have already acquired a social expectation that programming is for some other kind of people, and not for them; for example, many girls seem to think that it's a boys' subject, and so don't try it.

    1. Jonathan Samuels

      Programming is a specialised area of Maths/Science, its simply makes no sense making that a compulsory subject. If someone wants to do an A level in 'Programming' then fine but for everyone else learning to use Word/Excel which absolutely everyone will need in the future makes far more sense.

      Its the same as making everyone learn Chinese, sure having some more Chinese speakers would be useful but spending time on this instead of basic Maths or English is just silly

  34. John Geddes

    Isn't it about letting kids make things happen?

    Don't teach coding because it is a Good Thing.

    Give kids from about 7 or 8 the chance to work simple chips, sensors, lights, speakers and solenoids - and let them make machines that do things.

    At that age, few have the skills to create mechanical machines, drawings or creative writing that will genuinely impress peers and adults - but with some imagination and a bit of patience, they can develop a bit of kit that is reasonably impressive.

    All will learn about logic and problem-solving, which are real skills that would be good to see more widely in the population. And some will find a joy in making physical things that might just help reduce the UK's century-old prejudice against working to design or make useful objects.

  35. George 8
    IT Angle

    Surely we have to try?

    AndrueC: Valid arguments, but cant see the teach the kids angle.

    A little bit of knowledge does no harm - it's essential: I have to agree.

    AndrewO: You are the best. Stimulating discussion on a daily basis. Well done again.

    My take. I am of the Commodore Pet/ZX81 brigade. I loved it and have been a developer for decades. I still love it. I have 2 kids and some nephews. They have an interest which I am prepared to encourage and help as much as I can. I am careful not to force feed, merely to ensure they get the answers to questions or at least give them the correct questions to ask to find the answers for themselves. All sounds ok. Nah! These are bright kids. They are loosely driven by similar goals to the ones I had all those years ago. Ok, wiriting Space Invaders was all I wanted to do, and make money, but they are interested in writing games for phones and making money. Its close to the same.

    There is a difference though. They are affraid of experimenting. Is this the constant story we are feeding them about viruses? Is it that they have seen the PCs crash and loose their work? They definately have fear, and this is where I hope the Raspebrry PI experiment might just help.

    I dont quite agree with AndrewO on this, I think we *have* to try to engage the children. In a year of 120 children there may only be 1, 2 may be 5 kids who find the subject interesting, but in inner cities that could make a difference to a lot of families. IT teaching is school at present is worse than dull. It is also not encouraged. My eldest child wanted to take IT in his GSCE options but was discouraged because IT was where all the dim kids went. How did this happen? It was metal work in my day -- only the really clever mathematicians and scientists were able to do computing.

    Something needs to change. We need to raise the profile of developing in the UK. Why not teach some python or some other OO based scripting language. Hey at a push, PHP OO, but at least try to give the kids something. Why not put the elitism back in to IT? Why is it only the dim kids that do IT? I guess thats because they teach the dim kids how to lauch Word and what the baskspace key does. (and even there I've seen instructions inidcating the backspace key yet showing a picture of the delete key!)

    Raising the standards of IT education and therefore the entry criteria in the classroom can only be a good thing and I encourage the drive to do this. Make IT hard, interesting and stimulating. Hey you may end up with a class of 30 bright kids and as a country we will all benefit in one way or another...

  36. ukgnome

    Programming is not for everyone

    All those years ago I had an introduction to programming on my YTS course. This was however 1989 and because I wasn't a great scholar I also wasn't a great leaner of programming.

    Having said that I had already identified that the IT industry would be huge, and whilst you need people to code you also need to people to understand what coders do, and how that relates to the real world of computers. Back in my day they were called operators.

    Now fast forward 20 years and we now have technicians, engineers, programmers and helpdesk. this is mixed into lines or divisions of labour. Each a vital link in a chain of events that should please the average end user. Whilst I don't scipt or build simple batch files (anymore) I still know how to. Technology has evolved so I don't actually need to script, which is great as I find it totally boring. A couple of years back I accidently wrote an intranet for a company. Whilst the majority of the code was borrowed I did carry out some tweaks. This would not of been possible if I hadn't learned a little of HTML and CSS.

    I gues what I am trying to say is programming is not for everyone, but a great understanding of how a program interacts with the hardware and fleshware is important.

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Programming is not for everyone

      <quote>A couple of years back I accidently wrote an intranet for a company</quote>

      Beg pardon? You don't *write* an intranet, you *build* an intranet, you wire up, solder together, plug together an intranet.

    2. Sooty

      Re: Programming is not for everyone

      Define programming though!

      My first experience of "programming" in school was in primary school, some external company brought in a turtle* robot that all the kids had a go at programming to navigate various courses.

      It was a fun way of learning basic programming concepts, and pretty astounding to us at the time, the 80s.

      I think this level of programming *is* for everyone, the really basic concepts of a scripted series of actions, possibly even throwing a few variables in. Get any more complicated than this though and you're wasting it on people who aren't interested.

      * if they're not still around, or you're unfamiliar, they were a domed little thing on wheels, with a. Keypad on top, you keyed in basic instructions such as forward 2, turn left, forward 3, etc, hit go and watched it drive into a wall.

  37. Eddie Edwards
    Thumb Up

    A good article

    I disagree with a few points though.

    Firstly there is this Orlowski-style simile where he compares compulsory coding over a 1- to 3-year period with a journalist doing it for a day. Doesn't really mean anything. You can delete the whole journalist doing HTML part from the article and lose nothing.

    Secondly there is the part about where does the time come from for coding. Well, the time comes from not teaching kids how to use Word so much. There already is time on the curriculum for IT, the question is how do we use that time.

    Thirdly there is this Wizard of Oz nonsense. Abstraction is what computers do. The whole point of using computers, at every level, is to rely on the man behind the curtain. But each man behind a curtain is a piece of software, or hardware, which talks to a man behind another curtain. Ultimately it's all governed by the quantum wave equation, but fortunately you don't need to be able to solve that in your head in order to add a div element to a webpage. That's progress, Andrew, not philistinism.

    But I think the main reason Orlowski falls down here is due to his lack of imagination. This article is good in that it does acknowledge the current state of things rather than appealing purely to historical precedent, but we're not teaching kids to enter the workforce of 2012, we're teaching them to enter the workforce of 2016 or 2020, where they will stay until 2060 or so.

    Now, it is noticeable today that not many people program - it is a vocation, not a skill like driving a car. But the benefits from using computers are always greater to those who understand them, while the ease of programming and understanding the programming models is increasing. It is perfectly conceivable - perhaps inevitable - that by the middle of these people's careers it will be quite normal for everyone to be doing programming at some level. Even now, a manager who can write an Excel macro is going to be more productive than one who has no idea.

    This idea may be speculative, but the idea that the industry will be unchanged in 30 years is obviously wrong. What we can agree on, surely, is that computers are pretty important, using computers beyond a certain level requires some programming knowledge, that basic programming knowledge is easy enough to teach, and that teaching kids how to drive the UIs of programs which may not be around in 10 years is stupid? In which case, teaching programming at years 7-9 seems to be a no-brainer.

    I also find it somewhat bizarre to find anyone arguing for the status quo in education today, but hey.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: A good article

      "You can delete the whole journalist doing HTML part from the article and lose nothing."

      That's very true, but I thought Rory's article was illustrative of the make-programming-compulsory campaign's mindset. And his Tweets were quite revealing too: kids won't start coding unless the authority figures says so. Really? It's very patronising.

      Your point about Excel is a really good one: instead of "teaching programming" shouldn't we be teaching skills which use just happen to use computers? Excel can help with calculating NPV and regression analysis, the important thing here being the NPV or regression analysis.

      "I also find it somewhat bizarre to find anyone arguing for the status quo in education today"

      I would as well. But that bit has been inferred and was not implied.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A good article

        Every year we get a couple of A-level computing students for a couple of days of work experience, and we really struggle with what to do with them. Generally we talk them through a few basics of an application and let them loose on one of the development boxes to add a field to a dialogchen something based on what's entered, or something equally banal.

        The most shocking thing though has to be how much of a revelation it is. Even describing such simple things as the basic concept behind an event driven application are completely new. Even though you could download visual studio express and follow the tutorials to build one in an afternoon, no one had ever explained what it was, just the steps to go through to do it!

  38. John 62

    Compulsory coding is wrong

    Children should be introduced to the popular tools of computing (throughout the stack, from apps to presentational all the way down to logic gates) just like they should be introduced to music, literature, art, craft and design.

    You don't teach all children all the intricacies of music theory from the start, but you give them a recorder/keyboard and get them to play a scale and a couple of simple tunes, or a guitar and a couple of chord shapes, or a couple of drums. Let the interested ones flourish and try to support them as they learn and then the ones who have no interest can try something else.

    For computing, what needs to change is the CGSE curriculum, which was pretty dumbed down when I breezing through the course and it has got worse since.

    1. Bronek Kozicki

      Re: Compulsory coding is wrong

      "You don't teach all children all the intricacies of music theory from the start "

      sadly. My son just completed his prep exam in piano and still cannot read notes properly.

      Back to topic at hand: I don't expect kids to be able to write a "computer program", but being able to write function calculating factorial or fibonacci series in some simple programming language would seem pretty basic thing to do.

  39. AndrueC Silver badge

    Out of curiosity how do 'older' disciplines handle this? For instance electronics - who teaches people how to design a circuit? How to design logic circuits? How a transistor works? Do the 'old guard' there lament the fact that most of it these days is just connecting chips or modules together?

    I raised this question a while back when I commented about an El Reg article that felt it necessary to point out that C++ was still being used and one punter admitted that he had no idea even though he was a software developer. Are we actually heading toward that old Sci/Fi idea where civilisation collapses because no-one knows how to do the simple stuff.

    As I think I wrote in a reply to that punter: The cloud is all well and good but it is still dependant on assembly language.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      how do 'older' disciplines handle this? For instance electronics

      They buy a kit from Maplins

    2. PassiveSmoking

      I learned a lot of the stuff you mentioned at high school, including fabricating circuit boards with a CAD program running on a BBC micro and a vat of etching chemicals.

      1. milliganp

        Vat of etching chemicals!

        Heaven forbid, the health and safety brigade would never allow such a thing.

  40. Crisp

    Skills Children Will Need In The Future

    "The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots." - The Simpsons.

    Obviously, robotics is the subject we should be teaching our children?

  41. deadlockvictim Silver badge


    I like the idea of teaching relational database theory and practice in schools. It gives both logical theory and real world practice. SQL is easy enough at the beginning but it can get quite difficult when the conditions become complex. Not to mention the importance of backups after you've just deleted the contents of a table.

    As well as that, being able to create and use a relational database is a useful skill in the real world, especially in an office where everything is done on spreadsheets.

    SQL is scripting rather than programming, but it would expose pupils to logical thought and the necessity to formulate clearly what is to be done.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmmmm, so what's the proposal?

    My daughter was found to have an outstanding ability at football in her school that her parents never discovered as we never took her to a football pitch as she'd never shown any interest. I mean, she's not just good but seriously good and can "Bend it like Beckham". But still she's not really interested in football and is much more focussed on an odd hybrid of maths and art but I'm happy that her school are working with her talent, not pushing her - letting her engage at her level. I'd be horrified if they discontinued her other lessons and drove her down her path of her "natural" talent. We need to maximize exposure and support for a broad range of interests (including all IT) and opposing the idea cause it's a bit "light" is ridiculous.

    It's the classic 3 circles of life development: what you're good at, what you like doing, and what keeps you fed/wealthy. Our schools need to support our kids to find their own sweetspot. to that ends, I can't quite see how the author is proposing something to help our kids find a sweetspot and is more a suggestion that we identify a few talented kids and push them toward the "what you're good at" and "what keeps you fed/wealthy" with little or no regard for the "what you like doing"... might explain the high rate of antidepressant use among IT staff and SW developers.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I personally think my own education was about the right level and pacing as far as education in computing went - to give it some chronology, I left secondary school in 2000.

    Now, from as long as I can remember, we had computers at home, a ZX Spectrum then an Amiga then a PC, each for several years. And from an early age I was introduced to programming by my dad, so it's always been something I was familiar with.

    When I first entered primary school, they didn't have computers. I don't remember seeing a computer in school for the first couple of years.... it would have been year 3 when I first saw a computer in school, and it was a BBC Micro. A simple enough program where people were entering numbers to draw simple graphs (mirroring the stuff we were doing in class as a whole), plus a few other educational programs. Even then, those of us who were more comfortable with the computer were allowed more time on it, and those who weren't as comfortable (and who didn't go into computing later on) didn't have to.

    Through year 4 and into year 5, more of the same: those who were more familiar with them were allowed more time on them, doing more complex things. I can fully remember writing stuff in BBC Basic and Logo, for example. Round about year 5 was when I started to see the Acorn Archimedes being introduced. Kids were given more scope with getting comfortable since it was a case of using a mouse, something they could interact with that felt more natural. But the scope of what was done was mostly pootling about with the art program and a few educational things again - it was almost like a second wave to see who was comfortable and would progress, and who wouldn't.

    Then I joined secondary school, where it all changed. At this point, pretty much PCs everywhere, but also there's an increase in comfort levels, as it wasn't just a single machine in the classroom, it was one between two or even one per student. And we were encouraged to experiment and try things out for an hour per week.

    Then on top of that, one module in 'Design and Technology' during year 7 was to implement traffic lights. A simple I/O box with 8 outputs and 4 inputs, and turning a traffic light to red was as simple as turning on the relevant output with a dedicated instruction (i.e. 'Turn on 1'), and students could see that the simple instruction had consequences. And of course it got more complicated by having multiple lights interacting - while there's little skill in implementation, it's a classic case of approaching it from the design/analysis side, which is what it was teaching, of course.

    There was a little more of that later on, but most of the compulsory education thereafter was in ICT, i.e. using computers to communicate, rather than as part of computer science. I don't have a problem with that - we live in a world where using MS Office is a staple of the workplace, but those who knew about programming etc. were actively encouraged to make more of that.

    Consequently when I first encountered programming properly at A level (2001-2), it did not surprise me that we spent a lot of time on proper design and analysis, on database design, entities and relations. We then also spent a lot of time in Visual Basic, but using it to implement basic constructs like lists, trees and so on, plus a few lessons on assembly language and even a couple on Prolog. In other words, a decent enough (in my opinion) grounding in computer science in general. Oh, and we spent the grand total of one lesson (1 hour) on HTML, and in fact I led the class in explaining it because I knew it better than the teacher did!

    And today, after a career in financial services (that I sort of fell into), I work in computing. I feel comfortable with the journey I had, where those who weren't interested or didn't really have much in the way of aptitude for it weren't pushed through it, and probably wouldn't have made much of it even if it had been compulsory, while the few of us that showed an aptitude really went out and out into it in the end.

    The tl:dr; version is that I'm all for encouraging those who have aptitude in an area (like I had no problem consistently being last in PE and those who were far better being given preference during PE to pursue their aptitudes), and I'm not sure what you could teach out of comp-sci that would be generally useful to most students. But ICT as it currently stands would be worth teaching to all, as it currently is, because most students will end up using ICT generally.

    I also think that the one-day-of-HTML is well-meaning but somewhat misguided, it's like showing an avid reader how part of the book is printed, not the process in how to write a book, which is the part currently lacking.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Surely school is all about being exposed to a wide range of different skills - some you'll hate and be terrible at, others you'll want to spend the rest of your life being involved with!

    I got into coding as part of my marketing career - just doing bits of HTML, Javascript and PHP here and there on websites and for e-shots. I have to admit I love it and the idea of writing whole programs is amazing to me. However, I chose my path and to retrain now...well it is possible but not without a lot of upheaval in my life. Selfish I know. The point is, had I had the opportunity to experience coding in my teens, it may well have ended up on my career shortlist!! So I think the question is more about how do you introduce enough meaningful teaching to give kids a taster without going overboard?

  45. Fenton

    macros VB for apps?

    Is programming macros not programming?

    You might learn Excell at school, but what about learning VB for applications at the same time?

    Our best PAs have learned some VB and produce some really powerfull spreadsheets (OK not going to get into the argument of having a proper app vs Excell being the corporate database).

    Kids need to at least learn to appriciate how a computer program works not just how to use it.

    Maybe we should go back to good old BBC basic a nice old 3GL or pascal?

    Easy to learn and quick to get results even if you do produce horrid code.

    I learnt BBC basic when I was 15 and even got into a bit of assembler to speed things up. It is not hard for kids who have a knack for logic.

    Do some fundamentals, i.e. core office skills for everybody with an introduction to programming and then have a seperate subject kids can pick who want to go down the programming route (they will probably not even need to learn office skills as they'll pick it up quickly anyway)

    1. The BigYin

      Re: macros VB for apps?

      "Is programming macros not programming?"

      No - it is an abhorrence to all that is good an proper in the world.

      "Do some fundamentals, i.e. core office skills for everybody"

      Yes, teach the fundamentals. Not "How to push buttons in Word" but the actual fundamentals. "This is what a mail merge *is*", "This is what a database *is* and we use it to drive a mail merge" etc.

      As Andrew said above, using Excel to do NPV or regression analysis is not the important bit. The NPV or regression analysis is.

      There is far, far to much teaching of button-pushing and nothing about the actual fundamentals (and how to tinker).

      1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: Re: macros VB for apps?

        "There is far, far to much teaching of button-pushing and nothing about the actual fundamentals (and how to tinker)."


        Teaching everyone the basics of network architecture, "what's a server?" would be useful.

        Optional programming is fine by me.

        Specialising earlier (as in France) is probably a very good idea.

        But Mystical Rory's claim that we understand "the digital world" better with a bit of coding - induction? osmosis? - is weird.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yes, to a point,...

    please do educate kids about technology (how a computer works in general, basic troubleshooting, components, logic, etc).

    BUT! temper that by pointing out how limited this knowledge is in terms of proper ICT.

    My personal bug-bears in the 90s were corporate solutions put in by "a mate of mine who reckons he knows a thing or two about computers" (eg. next to nothing) and the attendant headaches supporting said solution. Also the "argue-ers" who insist that because I cannot refute their position in terms they understand, that the fault is with my argument and not with their knowledge (SAP Basis bimbos are particulartly good at this).

    Context! Context! Context!

  47. Paratrooping Parrot

    I am in two minds. I would like youngsters to get some idea of what is programming. Probably letting them use something like Scratch or Python will give them an idea. Python is probably the closest we have available that is similar to Basic as we in the 1980s had. Scratch will be suitable for the junior school and early senior school. Python should be suitable for GCSE levels.

    What really got people interested in programming was using the Turtle with Logo. If the schools can get a Gertboard with their Raspberry Pi, then that will be excellent. They will see motors turning and LEDs flashing, which will really inspire the children. They may want to carry this on and become the next Alan Turing.

    However, telling people that HTML is programming is really putting the hopes of those who wish to do something useful and is belittling to those who program.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "the closest we have available that is similar to Basic"

      Don't we still have Basic?

      I started programming in Basic when I was very small and still think it's a great way to learn.

  48. Torben Mogensen

    How to teach programming to kids

    Many of the efforts to teach programming to kids has suffered from the desire to allow the kids to make cool stuff (animations etc.) happen on their screens within a few minutes after teaching starts. This is supposedly to motivate the kids to go on exploring their tools.

    But in order to get this stuff on the screen so quickly, the tools that are used do a lot of things under the hood that the kids have no control of or understanding of. It is a bit like thinking you can learn electronics by plugging together two black boxes to make a radio. The kids can see the cause and effect (if I put together these boxes, sound comes out of one of them), but they have no understanding of why this happens.

    So, instead, the kids should use extremely simple languages where every minute step is explicit. It might take a while before they can make something "cool", but they will understand what happens when they do.

    1. Measurer

      Re: How to teach programming to kids

      Very good point.

      As an electrical/electronic engineer, I reckon that getting kids to understand the basics of Boolean logic, looping, value testing etc. could best be done in a science lesson (wire up two switches in parallel which can both drive an LED, use a comparator to test input voltage against a preset). These skills could then be transferred to CS lessons with the analogies pointed out

      i.e. those two parallel switches = a logical OR function, the comparator can be thought of as looping through an IF ... THEN statement until a value exceeds a preset.

      Software specific concepts could then grow out of these fundamental principles.

      I once had a problem where I had to illustrate the function of hardware interlocks preventing a lift from operating. Rather than take the management through the circuits, where the mysteries of safety relays and Probability of Failure on Demand calculations would hopelessly confuse their poor minds; as I knew the logic which the hardware implemented, I coded up an App in VBA, moving some graphics about on a form. Hey presto cue 2001 Space Odyssey start scene as they grasped it!

      I'm no expert at software, but having a logical model of the functionality got me 2/3rds of the way to coding it up and being able to communicate the concepts to the customer.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How to teach programming to kids

      Agree--many of the assumptions that adults make about children are simply wrong, e.g., they have short attention spans that must be catered to, and they can only pay attention to something if it involves things that are animated or explode etc.

      The Tipping Point has an interesting discussion about how Blue's Clues is a dramatically superior TV show for teaching children vs. Sesame Street because it involves focus and repetition vs. many short sketches that supposedly cater to short attention spans.

      Personally I spent many happy hours when I was a small child implementing "guess the number" games and similar in BASIC on my Commodore 64 even though I also had a large collection of video games.

  49. tmcd35

    Theres more to computing than programming

    I agree whole heartedly that ICT lessons should not focus on the mundane Word, Excel, Powerpoint activities. These are cross-curricular applications that should be taught in a cross curricular way.

    That said, a a nation of Scratch, Visual Basic and Logo coders isn't what we need. The kids would be better served with a broader ICT curriculum coving things like File Systems, WIMP and GUI's, Networking, Systems Architecture, etc.

  50. milliganp

    Two Penneth Worth

    Firstly I agree that Rory Cellan-Jones not knowing the difference between code and data shows just how little grasp he really has on what constitutes programming. - Nonetheless a little bit of HTML, CSS and Javascript is not a bad way to introduce the subject given the ubiquitous use of browsers.

    What I see as essential however is that we don't con ourselves into believing that we are teaching programming if we never get past the simplest of concepts and that we teach it extensively enough that an A grade cannot be achieved without demonstrable skill.

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wrong end of the stick

    Everyone seems to be arguing on the basis that you should learn to code either to be a programmer or so that you can have the opportunity to be the programmer.

    This is the wrong end of the stick. I think coding should be taught, not necessarily in it's own module, because there are thousands of jobs / people that require coding or could benefit from coding that are not actually programming jobs.

    Accountants and insurers and bankers and every form of scientist ends up writing little chunks of (normally bad) code here and there.

    Every time I get hit with a spreadsheet full of VB or an access database, I wish that person had been taught to code. Just a little bit. A bit of decent logical thinking.

    Every time I see somebody painstakingly work through years of documents changing a logo or contact name; every time I see someone manually checking an emailed CV for keywords and then forwarding the appropriate ones on; every time I see any repetitive computer based job I wish that these people had some idea of the incredibly inefficient way they work.

    Of course, the number of clerical jobs would plummet...

    Btw, I did a computer GCSE around 1989. It was code based. Acorn RiscPC, ftw.

  52. mittfh

    Coding in schools

    When I went through the school system in the 1980s, PCs were relatively unheard of, as were ICT suites. Instead, most classrooms had a BBC micro in the corner, and pupils would take it in turns to use it, doing simple word processing in English lessons or LOGO!

    I only remember the computerised version (without attached floor turtle), although there were computer-controlled turtles available that could be programmed from the computer, or standalone turtles such as the "Roamer" which didn't require an attached computer, but had keys to enter LOGO-style commands mounted on top of the shell (just below the hole for a pen).

    That can get pupils thinking in terms of logic and pre-planning sequences of actions beforehand.

    However, the skills seem to have migrated upwards in age - a few years ago, writing a set of instructions for "making a cup of tea" were part of the KS3 curriculum. It's also typically KS3 where they first encounter the likes of Access and Excel, and whatever resources are used to teach them seem to turn a lot off - I had a brief spell as a secondary ICT teacher a few years back and discovered most pupils had a preconception before the first lesson that spreadsheets and databases were hard. Never mind simple control systems (which was a shared topic between ICT and D&T).

    Ideally, introduce them to the concepts as early as possible, build on them in a variety of different contexts (i.e. not just as part of dedicated ICT "Now we're going to learn to program a computer"), build on them in computer clubs etc. so that by the time they reach secondary school, most aren't afraid of computers and a significant minority will be sufficiently interested in them to do computer science (as opposed to half a dozen different varieties of "Useless Qualification In Using Microsoft Office")

    Find contexts that genuinely interest pupils, rather than an exam board's idea (e.g. the infamous DiDA "Five a Day" SPB), but perhaps more importantly encourage them to think for themselves across the board - DiDA was a nightmare to teach because pupils were too used to being "spoon fed" in other subjects, so expected everything they needed to be done handed to them on a plate. They couldn't understand the concept of spending even half a term doing preparatory work which would not contribute directly to their exam grade (the actual syllabus calls for 2/3 of the year to be spent building the skills, so the remaining 1/3 can be spent on the project itself. Needless to say, the school I was at's preferred approach was a 1/2 term overview, followed by the project, which was effectively spoon-fed them. Marking down previous assessments of the pupils' work (because it didn't meet the exam board's criteria) was frowned upon, and I'm pretty sure the other teachers completely ignored the guidance that stated that the more help you give pupils in their project, the lower the mark they get. That's before the unhealthy concentration on those targeted C+ but currently achieving less, and catch-up sessions at lunchtimes, after school, during holidays...

    Of course, the main problem with implementing a decent approach to ICT is that the vast majority of teachers don't have much experience with it themselves. After all, you have to find someone who not only understands IT and is qualified in it, but has the desire to teach and the right personality - not only to inspire and motivate the pupils but to grab their attention within five seconds of entering a classroom (especially the disaffected) and holding that attention until the end of the lesson.

  53. ElReg!comments!Pierre
    Thumb Down

    Nonsensical article

    Well, the first page at least; couldn't bring myself to read the second one.

    First it is extremely obvious that the more kids are exposed to coding, the more "elite" coders you will end up having. That's just because you will end up hooking more of the extremely bright one, who would otherwise have turned into chess materminds or whatever.

    Second, no-one becomes an "elite" coder by themselves. The world is full of (extremely) bad coders -not even mediocre ones- because there are not enough of good ones, not because there are too many coders as a whole. Even "mediocre" coders and webdesigners would be a _huge_ step up from the current situation.

    Third, the kids who might turn to coding, and be good at it are likely to become malware writers or spam peddlers, lest you guide them in another direction.

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've just sat one of the new July 2013 GCSE exams...

    I don't think Andrew has a leg to stand on...

    It covered - naming bits of a PC, upgrading PCs, logic gates, binary/hex and bit of debugging in what appeared to be BASIC...

    It's all about logical thinking and a bit of knowlegde...

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yobie Tongue is wrong. That's not what happens.

    School sports day is an event used to detect the parents that cheer their kids on.

    Their kids, (and the parents if they cheer too hard,) are then sent for re-education.

  56. The Indomitable Gall

    Andrew Orlowski needs to spend a week in an office.

    In any corporate environment, you can find dozens of people "programming" at any one time. Whether it's a bodged-together spreadsheet or a VBA macro in Word, it's still programming. It's just very *bad* programming... because the people doing it aren't trained in programming.

    Programming is the art of automating information manipulation. Lots of time is lost in all desk jobs to people doing manually what they could easily automate with a simple shell script.

    Programming *is* a core skill for the modern world.

    Of course, it is correct to say that the people in charge of primary syllabus design don't really understand what programming *is*, and would most likely fall into the old web-design trap instead of teaching structured thought, but that's a different issue.

    1. ElReg!comments!Pierre

      Re: Andrew Orlowski needs to spend a week in an office.

      You are almost right but for that:

      " the people in charge of primary syllabus design don't really understand what programming *is*, and would most likely fall into the old web-design trap instead of teaching structured thought, but that's a different issue."

      You seem to infer that proper web design doesn't require structured thought. That's extremely wrong, as is sadly demonstrated by the flurry of non-proper-websites floating around on the intertubes. Web design _is_ coding, and there is no proper reason to apply less stringent criteria to website design than to, say, Lisp programming. Especially considering that the single biggest attack vector these days _is_ improper website design. Admittedly I am including much more in the "web design" part than most syllabus designers would, but I believe I'm right and they -and you, by extension- are wrong. Which is also why I think that web designers should be treated (and trained) like proper IT professionals, not like the coloured-crayon pushers they are too often viewed and trained as.

      I still upvoted your post tho, not that it matters terribly much.

  57. The BigYin

    Kids are not afraid

    Adults assume the kids are because the adults are afraid. Always.

    In my experience, if you show a kid how anything works (be that code, an engine or martial arts technique) they almost immediately become fascinated and begin to want to tinker with it. This tinkering may or may not lead to a life-long obsession/career, but it is never met with fear.

    Only adults know fear of the kind implied because adults are taught that failure is bad. Kids don't know that yet.

    Should coding be compulsory? Maybe.

    Should promoting an understanding of how things work that it's OK to tinker and how to tinker safely be compulsory? Yes. 100%. Utterly without reservation. In the IT world this has certain ramification though; i.e. no proprietary software (as you can't tinker with that).

  58. Gordan

    Good summary

    I've been saying this for years - the problem with the IT industry is that nowdays everybody who knows how to write "Hello world!" in HTML thinks they are a programmer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good summary

      I used to work at one of the largest software companies in the world on a product that is one of the most popular in the world.

      At one point the lead designer on a sub-product was overheard complaining that the development team was taking too long and that he was able to make a prototype by himself in just a week. The "prototype" was a sequence of animations in Flash.

  59. cyborg


    Developing English skills is the beginnings of being able to formulate abstract thoughts about the world you live in.

    Developing mathematical skills allows one to formulate abstract thoughts about all possible worlds.

    Computers are tools for exploring mathematical worlds. If anything it would seem that teaching computing would be beneficial to teaching mathematics.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Abstractions

      Symbolic maths could help in large parts of analysis. The tedious work of manual symbolic integration or differentiation would be taken over by the computer.

      Plotting graphs is the other obvious opportunity for the computer.

      Similar things could be said about Physics and Chemistry.

  60. Anonymous Coward

    Learning Programming

    Indeed time in school is limited and so are the capabilities of pupils. So let's focus on the Grammar School Pupil.

    S/He is getting taught Maths, Chemistry, Physics, Philosophy, Ethics or Religion, the National Language and some Foreign/Classic Languages (and some more). The argument can be made that most of these skills will be useless because of later specialization on university or apprenticeship education.

    Still, we try to hammer differential analysis into grammar school pupils. So the same argument can be made about the theory of programming. It can be argued that grammar school pupils should know some basic algorithms&data structures when they complete school. This theory is as well-developed as Chemistry, Maths or any other "hard science". For example, it can be proven that there is nothing faster than O(n*log(n)) for sorting based on comparisons.

    So what would learning objectives be ?

    * Being able to design data structures for simple problems like an idealised(!) customer/products database.

    * Being able to write code which will perform simple mathematical operations such as calculating vector lengths.

    * Being able to solve some math problems such as integrating a part of a Gauss curve numerically.

    * Being able to write code which does some simple, idealised querying on a table.

    * Being able to calculate some simple statistics for a table of given data.

    Of course that would entail learning a programming language such as Java, Pascal, C# or some other ALGOL-type language. And certainly it would entail PROPERLY EDUCATED TEACHERS.

  61. Torben Mogensen


    IMO, another problem with "traditional" ways to teach programming to kids is that the teachers want the programs to be about real-world problems. While this is realistic and can motivate some students, it also adds another layer of complexity: Abstracting a real-world problem to a level that allows solution on a computer. So I think the students should initially work on problems that do not require an abstraction step. This can either be by not pretending at all that the problems have anything to do with real life or by working in a domain that is already abstracted using an abstraction that the students know well already: Numbers. For example, the data domain can be simple integers and a grid of pixels that can be turned on and off individually and problems can be of the form: Make a program that makes checker-board pattern on the screen. Pixels should be big enough that you can see each individual pixel, so you can better see what goes wrong when something does. Also, make it easy to read the value of a pixel on the screen -- a feature that was found on most 80's home computers, but which is complicated or impossible to do in many modern graphics libraries.

  62. samboy

    "We’d be better off stimulating and challenging the young bright coders identified as such in schools"

    How do you identify the young bright coders if theres no coding done in the school?

    "What he “learned” isn’t real programming, and bears little relation to it."

    The idea isn't to churn out programmers. I think the idea is to show an example of how what they see on there computers is made, to spark an interest in learning how things work. Its like taking a toy apart when your a child, inspiring you to become an engineer.

  63. Infernoz Bronze badge

    It's about mindset, not Prussian state rote or PC we are all equal at everything BS

    If schools are going to teach coding, they need to select only the kids who are likely to succeed at coding e.g. a proven ability in Mathematics up to at least Algebra, the proven ability to think logically and rationally, technical curiosity, and persistence.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's about mindset, not Prussian state rote or PC we are all equal at everything BS

      It's also about teachers. There simply is no serious teacher education on-going. CS is as hard as mathmatics and should have the same time and resources applied to.

      As long as the teacher isn't solidly educated, CS courses will always be a strange thing that turns off all those who weren't interested before. No amount of Arduinos and RPIs will change that.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's about mindset, not Prussian state rote or PC we are all equal at everything BS

      Let me guess, you aren't a coder. Coding has next to nothing to do with mathematics although that seems to be a common misconception held by the general, uninformed public. As a professional coder for the last 20 years with minimal-to-no interest in math I find it very frustrating when people just assume that I like math and do it all day.

  64. Tom 15


    I'm afraid I can't agree with Andrew here... there are lots of people I know who don't program because quite honestly they have no idea what it is and who's knowledge of it sits somewhere between thinking it's 0s and 1s and knowing it has a lot of curly brackets but who would potentially have been great at it and could have had a career in it if they'd only been given the opportunity.

    I'm lucky enough to be a programmer because I had a dad who always knew that computers were a good career to go into despite being technically inept. A lot of people have never had this start and that is the job of the education system, to introduce people to concepts and ideas that otherwise they might never have come across.

    Let's not pretend that we're talking about showing kids some HTML... we did a bit of HTML at school along with a large dose of Microsoft Frontpage. This is about teaching kids some programming, showing them that it's something they can do if they have a logical disciplined brain. There are plenty of kids who are good at Maths but know they don't want a pure mathematical career and we should nurture their desire by showing them how they can use mathematical concepts to do cool things.

  65. MonkeyBot

    Close the schools

    "We don’t need a lot of people who know a bit about coding, but a few people who are extremely good at actually doing coding well."

    You can say the same about every subject taught in school. We don't teach maths & science because we need a lot of people who know a bit about math & science (although that would be nice). The important thing that we need kids to take from those lessons is how to think rationally and in that sense, coding could be a very valuable subject.

    "So the day at the ad agency no more qualifies Rory to speak about computer programming than painting a fence qualifies you to be an architect or a civil engineer."

    And you have spent how long working in education? What's that you say, you've never taught a class in your life? Then I guess you're not qualified to speak about what we should be teaching in schools.

  66. Rick Giles

    You totaly missed the point...

    If you tell a kid to wait, they usually have it figured out before the boring old people get around to showing them anything.

  67. Frank Bough


    Of course everyone should be tutored in the basics of coding - in the full knowledge that 99% won't pursue it or care. At the very least, it will give them a little bit of insight into and respect for people who are skilled programmers. A proper, broad-based education should provide students with introductions into a wide variety of stimulating learning experiences, logic, information theory and programming are certainly among them.

  68. Oninoshiko


    I really didn't see much in here to combat the concept that childern should learn programming in school. Most of it was a two page rant that HTML and CSS are not programming. You established that Mr Orlowski, so STOP USING IT AS A STRAWMAN.

    I also find it highly ironic that you point out that he seems to make the false distinction between "real coders" and "fake coders" (going so far as to question what a "fake coder" is) and then proceed to barate him for falling into the latter catigory. The reailty is, as much as you denounce his characterisation of your attitude, you imply with your own words later that his chariterisation is accurate.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Sigh.

      You missed the bit where I did.




      It would be daft to teach children coding when they leave school unable to spell.

      (A cheap shot, guilty as charged).

  69. ■↨

    Newbie error...

    The error here is taking anything Rory Hyphen Jones says seriously. I have yet to see a broadcast from him or an article on the BBC website from him that wasn't powder-puff, lightweight, barely-scratch-the-surface, populist and most importantly pointless. I have given up reading his articles.

    Ignore him. Anyone with sense will.

  70. npo4


    A good tool for kids would be something like Scratch, which is a drag and drop program maker.

    This would let kids use their creative side, and see if they enjoy making programs, in which case they can move on to a real programming language.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Scratch?

      When I was a small child we had no problem typing simple programs in BASIC, Logo, etc. and most kids in my class found it to be very enjoyable. I don't know how drag-and-drop would have helped anything. Seems like an unnecessarily complication.

  71. jon 72

    Don't teach facts , teach learning

    Force feeding facts to bored minds is not an education it's brainwashing, parents incidently often don't help matters either.

    Tell a child that 'Star Trek' will never happen as faster than light travel is imposibble because smart old dead man said it was so and you will of helped prepare another drone for the collective.

    Tell that same curious stargazing child nobody has figured out a way to do it yet and in a year they will know more about high energy physics than you do.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't teach facts , teach learning

      How can you learn anything without facts? How are you supposed to learn, e.g., a foreign language without learning some vocabulary and grammar of that language, how are you supposed to learn chemistry without memorizing a couple of elements, etc.

  72. TimChuma
    Thumb Up

    That's why we got haters, that's why we got haters Haters everywhere we go, haters everywhere ...

    Surely it can't hurt? When you are slaving in the content mines of Siberia, you will be thankful of any HTML knowledge you have to make things easier, especially when you only have a plain text editor to use.

    Content migration projects are a good thing for entry-level workers as they get a lot of experience in content management systems and various web systems.

    At the very least knowing HTML will help with browsing websites as you can take short-cuts via the back-end and get to places that are blocked via poor navigation if you know your way around.

  73. thalass

    I think i agree with those saying a bit of intro coding should be like the compulsory chemistry/physics/etc that all kids do.

    When i was in high school i took a term of electronics - partly because i was interested, but mostly because my friends were doing it, too. We spent the term flinging solder blobs at each other and being stupid, but next term when they all moved on to other things, i stayed. The bug had bitten me, and now i'm an avionics aircraft maintenance engineer.

    What i think is that electronics (rather than compsci or coding) should be compulsory for a term or so in first year high school, just like the other subjects that are compulsory. Perhaps even for the whole of the junior years along side 'social studies' and the sciences. In this general course the kids would spend some time making simple circuit boards, learning basic components (semiconductors, resistors, capacitors, inductors), perhaps, doing some basic coding (python would come in here as it would be quick to see the results), and then in the end putting it together with picaxe microcontrollers.

    This could probably all be done in the first year, alongside the basic science/english/social studies/sports subjects. Whether the kids choose to go on with it is up to them, hopefully enough can be covered in an enjoyable way to encourage many kids to take it up. Who knows, maybe some kids might be interested who, if it wasn't compulsory, would be stuck in the jock/cheerleader stereotype for their whole school life! Think of the potential coders who might never write a line otherwise. There could be a Zephram Cochrane amongst the cool masses!

    But it should be done as a broad subject stream with many specialised options for the later years, just like the sciences.

  74. Muscleguy

    I paddle, but I know I can't swim

    I'm a biologist. I'm pretty good at using the macro language around FileMaker Pro. But I also know the difference between that and programming. I'm married to a woman with a CompSci degree (with another in Maths) and when it comes to coding she wears the trousers in the house.

    I could see the advantage of perhaps teaching a module on algorithms in Maths class. The idea of algorithm is a useful thing in many ways and I wasn't taught it but could have found it useful. Growing up as computers did helped mind as you absorb stuff by osmosis but learning it formally would still have been nice. Coding though? not necessary. Just teach the general idea. Those whom it causes lights to go on behind their eyes can then take it further.

  75. Furbian

    No formal qualifications needed...

    .. here we go again, I bought into this fallacy, and suffered for it, yes I could always code (I cut my teeth on Z80 Assembler) but thought I'd just get one of the jobs in coding no problems. The reality was that I didn't get one until I had a degree and a masters on top.

    OK so messing with HTML is hardly going to help anyone to code, but teaching a bit of Python, Java, or whatever similar wouldn't go amiss, I was forced to learn cookery and needle work at school. I can make a nice omelet, boil rice, and put a few stitches together, more as a result of common sense than those classes I had. However the old computer studies O-Level (yes it was that long ago) was invaluable, even if they did teach you about punch cards, that were redundant even back then.

  76. npo4

    Better than nothing

    Although HTML isn't the best language to teach, teaching anything even close to code is miles better than "ICT" where kids learn basic skills they already know...

    Although I'm not sure it would encourage people to go into Computing, having Computing on the curriculum and getting more people to try code is definitely not a bad thing.

  77. John Fielder

    he best way to get teenagers really into coding would be to ban it from IT lessons. They would then sneak some coding into every lesson just to break the rules.

  78. daveeff

    We only want the good ones?!?

    And how do you find the good ones unless you try and interest everyone?

    Playing with css & html may be no more programming than playing in the sandpit is maths but we don't decide to not educate any kids unless they start reading "Calculus for Kids" or Dickens without any input from the educational establishment.

    That's the way education works - you get kids to mix epoxy, hope they ask themselves "why does it do that?" and THEN teach them chemistry.

    Playing with web pages is the start of the process not the endpoint.

  79. JOKM

    Let the Flame wars begin.

    Rory Cellan-Jones the BBC Technology correspondent went and dissed him right back.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Let the Flame wars begin.


  80. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good grief

    Owlorski vs Rory C-J, could there ever be a more perfect storm of fail? I am not sure which annoys me more.

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