back to article PM Cameron calls for modern, programmable computers! (We think)

Prime Minister David Cameron has made some baffling remarks on IT in a speech to the G8 Summit calling for greater clarity. Speaking specifically on the subject of the UK's national curriculum and how vital it is to get "education right", Cameron told the confab: We’re proposing more arithmetic and algebra in maths, more …


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  1. David Knapman

    He Misspoke

    The modern way of using computers is "consumption", not coding. Thou shalt not dare do anything but consume.

    1. Matthew 25

      Re: He Misspoke

      That's just pants. Everything you consume *someone* had to code.

  2. Anomalous Cowshed

    Don't underestimate the Bollocks

    In Bollocks: "We’re proposing more arithmetic and algebra in maths, more detail in science, more clarity on punctuation and spelling in English, more emphasis on modern methods of computing like coding."

    Translated into English: ""

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Don't underestimate the Bollocks

      Well if Maths is going to be reduced to arithmetic and English to spelling then computer science should be about taking computers out of boxes and plugging them in.

      1. keithpeter Silver badge

        Re: Don't underestimate the Bollocks

        I teach GCSE Maths to late teenagers and adults. I'd advise any interested parties to look at the work of the Education Select Committee in Parliament. Their reports are accessible, and have some concept about the way you actually go about changing a system with 10+ million pupils and a tad under half a million or so teachers. Hint: not in 2 years. This is not party based, the leader of the select committee is Graham Stuart, a tory.

        We all elect a government, and they formulate policy to guide them in the way they use your taxes to provide education. I and my colleagues do our best to implement the policies as you would expect us to. (My hobby is knitting hats from mist).

        I'll start taking the changes to GCSE Maths seriously when I see sample assessment materials (with associated marking schemes) and not before. You'll find it kind of gets made sensible at that stage because it has to because just under 700 000 people will answer the exam questions each year and it is hard to be vague then!

        I don't teach IT so I'm not commenting on that one. Good luck to all involved.

        1. chr0m4t1c

          Re: Don't underestimate the Bollocks

          >We all elect a government

          Given turnout in the last two decades, only about 65% of us elect a government.

          Actually, for the last election there was an online tool you could use that asked you how you felt about individual policies and then gave you percentage matches against parties (you had to tell them which parties you would consider voting for first).

          My answers matched roughly equally across the three main parties, so that really helped my voting choice (not).

          At that point, it became starkly apparent to me that we should vote on each policy as well as the representative, that way you can vote left/right/middle but not have to take the wheat and chaff together.

          The winners then have a clear idea of what people do and don't want them to do with their power.

          Nah, it'll never fly.

  3. Steve 13

    As opposed to teaching the kids how to highlight a line in Word 2000 and make it bold... Or other such lessons in the use of computers, which I've been lead to believe is the form that most school IT takes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      ICT in schools is designed to teach kids skills for working in a company office. The government needs to establish additional courses that will give students a head start in wanting to pursue a career in software development.

      I remember classes for subjects such as Woodwork, Art and Geography so why not something for those wanting to pursue a career in Computer Engineering.

  4. Davegoody

    Typical rubbish spouted by our out of touch leaders

    We are living in a world where our leaders are given speeches to read out, and where they have no real appreciation of what they are saying. Just throwing a few "buzzwords" - that is what he was trying to do, into the conversation may well work with the general public, but doing it in front of people who know what they are talking about is asking for trouble.

  5. LaeMing

    If your pollies are as IT savy as most of ours here in .au, then by "modern methods of computing" he means using LEDs* above the toggle switches instead of little incandescent bulbs.

    *Like in the newest TVs. It must be really modern then!

  6. andreas koch
    Thumb Up

    Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

    what they did in this subject.

    His answer was: "Fsck all."

    Apparently the most IT-ish action was copying a file using the command console with step-by-step instructions.

    So yes, I have to agree with him, coding in school would be nice. (That's also what the young man behind me thought, he was bored to bits in their IT class.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

      Rather than rely on anecdotal evidence, try having a look at the actual exam paper for GCSE ICT last year.. On one question, candidates are asked to describe data validation in a database, input masks and test data design. Another asks for a discussion of the benefits and risks of networked devices in an office.

      Not exactly copying a file at the command line is it?

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

        Sorry to butt in here, but I just went trawling:

        Although there MIGHT be questions like you say, the questions worth just-as-many-marks are things like "Which of these four phones has the largest memory?" when you're given a list of specifications.

        And "Give two ways in which a game can be controlled hands free."

        And "Manjit is asked to enter her new password twice. Give one reason for this."

        Sorry, but that's just worthless. I work in IT, I work in IT in education specifically, I'm a coder, and a geek. But that's just a worthless tick-box exercise that doesn't expand people's knowledge at all. At worst, you're looking at memorisation of pointless information and random multiple-choice guessing to pass.

        1. Maharg
          Thumb Down

          Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

          Sorry to butt in here

          I was under the impression that GCSE’s were for 15 year olds, and the idea is to show they have a ‘’basic” (no offence indented) competence in the subject, most people who do well in chosen GCSE’s (like computing) will go on to apply this ‘basic’ level to either further education in the subject, such as A Levels and then University, or go into apprenticeships or other roles in which they will learn more skills ‘on the job’, either way they will mostly end up in junior positions so again they can continue learning.

          Do you think you could have had all the knowledge required to do the job you currently do when you were 15 years old? Keeping in mind you had only been able to write for around 10 years, let alone type, If so either you were exceptionally talented, or you might want to look for a new job.

          As for “Dave” I guess he (or his speech writer) thinks coding is ‘modern’ because they were taught useful subjects like Latin and buggery avoidance at school.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

          You didn't look very hard then, or rather did you selectively choose the foundation level paper which only covers grades G to C.

          Have another go and look at this instead.

          Yes there are easier questions in the paper, but you need to test all abilities I the same paper so you will expect some easier questions in the paper.

          Your selective choice of questions exhibits the typical attitude of someone like Mr Gove, just broadcast that which supports your position. I invite all the readers of this page to look at the question paper I linked to and make a comment. Real discourse and constructive criticism helps the discussion, selecting a few questions set at the F or E mark level in a single module rather then looking at the paper as a whole gives a poor impression. Couple the exam with the proof that the students are capable of the work covered in the course via their coursework gives a more rounded picture of the individuals.

          1. Lee D Silver badge

            Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

            Sorry, no. That's a "Higher Tier" paper, something that you don't expect the average student to ever see. Additionally, look at the mark allocation. You get as many marks for a handful of "OCR stands for what?"-type questions as you do the ones at the VERY end of the Higher Tier paper that you link.

            You could get an A in that course without even bothering to do more than answer the 1-mark questions and take a stab any question over 2 marks.

            "The temperature sensor sends information to the computer via an interface device. Name this device." [1 mark]

            "Explain why it's needed" [2 marks]

            It's still pathetic. And the average student? You'll be lucky to get a C, so the information that they have in their heads to pass with a C is what will pass into "common knowledge/skills" in the fresh workforce in a few years to come. So, still, totally pointless.

            Sure, they may be assigned coursework but it's the sheer quality of the qualification that's pathetic. When I left uni, A-level students started to do the same Graph Theory that I was taught in Uni (my brother is a teacher, state and private and I've had a career exclusively managing IT for schools). Nowadays, they are learning things in GCSE ICT that are literally quiz-type questions for 8-year-olds. What does OCR stand for? Really? How pathetic.

            It reminds me of when I read the 1960's A-level Physics papers while studying Physics. God, my course was so dumbed down compared to back then, I was so relieved not to have lived in the 1960's. The same is happening in ICT but we don't have lots of historical papers to refer back to.

            99% of that cruft, I could push a class of GCSE students through with a day of training to the exam. That shouldn't be possible.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

        @AC: 10:31:

        "Rather than rely on anecdotal evidence, try having a look at the actual exam paper for GCSE ICT last year.. On one question, candidates are asked to describe data validation in a database, input masks and test data design. Another asks for a discussion of the benefits and risks of networked devices in an office.

        Not exactly copying a file at the command line is it?"

        I am so glad teaching has moved forward. I used to get pulled out of class to help the IT/business teacher because she didnt even know how to switch on a computer. And yes by switch on I mean the big round button in front of her. Granted it was over 10 yr ago.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

      Sounds like his communication skills are down the tubes as well. Did you ask him what they did in English GCSE?

      My son is just starting on his computing GCSE so yet to see how it goes. Nowadays the choice is between IT (basic user skills) or Computing (includes coding).

    3. lawl

      Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

      He got to use the command console in class?! Wow... that's way more than I got to do (3/4 years ago) We did nothing but use the graphical interface of dreamweaver (I was actually told off for trying to learn some html and code it myself) to create awful "websites" about healthy eating and the like.

      What I'd have given to use the command console!

    4. Lars Silver badge

      Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

      Perhaps he is as a nice blonde I once met. Telling her I was a programmer she lit up and told me she was a programmer too. My next question was, of course, about the programming language, which was Excel.

    5. andreas koch

      Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

      @ various ACs and other defenders of the curriculum.

      His statement might not have been totally objective. Teenager's statements seldom are (as you might or might not know*); nevertheless it shows just how amazingly interesting this subject was made. Not.

      Generally education seems to aim at pupils passing the test instead of grokking the subject. After all, free (as in beer, not as in speech) schools need to show a certain return for their council funding. This might be totally different in public schools that you pay for.

      * . . . reminds me of the film 'Medicine Man', where Sean Connery's character gets insulted by a Yanomami shaman with the words: "You are not a father".

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

        I did O'level CS in the early 1980s probably soon after it was introduced.

        It was a joke then, we wrote an "ask 20 questions" app in BBC basic and had an exam that asked you to do little more than circle the picture of a mainframe. I remember the exam took about 15mins - we were all looking around confused as if they had missed some pages out.

        Now don't get me started on the differences between maths/physics O level 30years ago and what we teach today .....

  7. LinkOfHyrule

    Hey kids, le'me give you an app-a-tunity!

    He's just ripping off The Thick of It now (just like Labour used to) but this time he's going to go into a local school and tell "the kids" that he's "down with them" and that they are to make apps in school for free.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe he said 'codeine' ?

  9. Rono666
    Thumb Down

    Old mumbles

    That's what he should be called, they don't want educated people, as Gove try's to make everyone even more kids stupid.

    1. dogged

      Re: Old mumbles

      Gove try's to make everyone even more kids stupid.

      It seems to be working.

  10. Brennan Young

    Typical edu do-gooder attitude

    Again, powerful people with meagre pedagogical insight feel qualified to weigh in on subtle details of curriculum planning.

    I teach programming. For every 'more' requested, there is correspondingly less time for something else. there are rarely calls for less of anything. And often that something else (e.g. learning about different number bases in general) forms the foundation of whatever is wanted more of (I assume hexadecimal is still regarded as useful for 'coding' by the clown, but who can tell?)

  11. GrumpyWorld

    leadership challenge

    DC is so worried about a challenge from the Mayor of London that he's attempting a 'Boris'?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...modern methods of computing like coding"

    I think he means 'writing code without using preliminary archaic methods such as requirements analysis and design'.

  13. goldcd

    I'm assuming it's related to previous statements like this

    and after a quick google for a sample paper on "Living in a Digital World":

    I think I may be in absolute agreement.

    1. M Gale

      Re: I'm assuming it's related to previous statements like this

      *(e) Some people claim that playing video games is beneficial.

      Make a reasoned argument to support this point of view.(p19)

      Bit of a wierd question.

    2. M Gale

      Oh, and.

      (iv) The availability of free applications software is a threat to commercial

      software producers, such as MicrosoftTM.

      Explain two ways in which commercial software producers can

      respond to this threat.(p21)


    3. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: I'm assuming it's related to previous statements like this

      That's not IT, not ICT, certainly not Computing. It's "shopping", or what was called "design for living" when I worra lad, "life skills".

  14. HollyHopDrive

    what a first class.....

    ...bell end.

    Between him and Mr Gove it makes me worry to the core about my children's educational future.

    Nice article El reg - couldn't have surmised it better.

    1. dogged

      Re: what a first class.....

      couldn't have surmised it better.

      Apparently so.

  15. Ole Juul

    I'm sure he was just trying to illustrate

    how vital it is to get "education right"

  16. Anonymous Coward

    He was ad-libbing

    What he was told to say that "All education is subject to UK law. Science and maths makes us all safer."

  17. Gordon Pryra

    If it smells like..

    Then most likely its the value of the qualifications being taken these days.

    Having a PM talk fluff on the world stage hardly fills us with confidence that this sorry sate of affairs will be changing any time soon

  18. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    Making web pages...

    ...if his definition of "coding" is the same as that of Rory Cellan-Jones:

    1. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: Making web pages...

      HTML is a computer language for describing how to layout elements on a canvas. It's not a Turing complete language, but it is still a language with specific syntax and grammar, and writing something in that language is an activity I would describe as coding.

      1. keithpeter Silver badge

        Re: Making web pages...

        @Tom 38

        HTML+CSS may be Turing complete. But I wouldn't want to try and actually do arithmetic in it...

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How about

    Programmable government? Put them in debug mode and lets get fixing :)

    1. annodomini2

      Re: How about

      IT already is, just the lobbyists, not the public are the ones doing the programming.

  20. Flawless101

    Maybe he thinks punch cards are still used everywhere?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      * PUNCHED cards

      The cards have been PUNCHED.

  21. jeffo

    Obviously been using a random bullshit generator.

  22. Enrico Vanni

    This is coming on the back of initiatives like (aka. let's make programming look cool by involving celebs - as soon as Will-I-Am' face appears of course you need to take it with a pinch of salt, like that car he 'invented' and the rubbish he spouted when he was one of the Olympic torch bearers). Politicians have seen the video on the homepage and now think they know what they are talking about....

  23. M Gale

    I guess he'd like to see kids taught something a bit deeper than an Excel formula, which is commendable enough I guess. Throw the kids Scratch to play with, and gcc or MSVS if the budget stretches that far, at the ones that show an interest.

    But really I'm making up my own bullshit in an attempt to get sense out of a statement that is quite bizarre.

    1. Peter Scott

      It's very easy to sit back and criticise the teachers and examination bodies, but the curriculum depends on what the expected outcomes of the education system are. Much of this is driven by what employers ask for in prospective employees.

      There are a couple of possible things to look at. Not every child leaving school is going to be a programmer or IT specialist, but many of them will enter a workplace where they have a computer on their desk and will be expected to be able to use it. They therefore should be able to use an office package of some form, produce word processed documents, spreadsheets and presentations. The existing ICT curriculum produced students with exactly those skills.

      The other route is for those learners who do want to program, they need a different curriculum which does cover programming, software design, data modelling and so forth. This was a gap in the curriculum, but we need both routes not one or the other. Do you really want to have to start training new employees on basic skills like using a word processor as soon as they begin working for you?

      We need to be careful in criticising the curriculum, politicians will jump on the band wagon; the education secretary is already planning to remove project work from the qualification assessment. Ask yourselves how many projects do you work in in your day to day life at work and how often does two years of your effort come down to writing out some answers in a couple of hours on a single day?

      1. Alfred

        What are schools for anyway?

        "Do you really want to have to start training new employees on basic skills like using a word processor as soon as they begin working for you?"

        I'm not quite sure why I'm paying my taxes, but it's not so that companies can save themselves the expense of a two day MIcrosoft Office training course for the new-starter. So the answer to your question is "Yes, I think that if companies want people with certain skills beyond reading, writing, basic maths and being able to think (which, granted, is not very likely given our education system, but it's worth a punt), they should be prepared to train up those skills themselves or pay for experienced, already skilled staff."

        1. Peter Scott

          Re: What are schools for anyway?

          I disagree. I have been fortunate enough to have worn a few hats in this arena. I work for a technology company, I am a part time lecturer at a University and I was the school governor chair of the technology college forum at a local school.

          When we were discussing the 14-19 curriculum a couple of years ago, one of the topics under discussion was the 14-19 diploma. Much of the input into the discussions on this diploma centred on the needs of employers and the requirement for basic skills. Like it or not, the ability to use ICT in the office is today seen as a key core skill. Any pupil leaving school who is not ICT literate is in the same position in the jobs market as someone who is illiterate or innumerate; their options for financially secure employment are severely restricted. The employers saw this as a key skill and expected pupils to leave school literate, numerate and IT literate.

          I take exception at the comment on "our education system". Have you actually spent any time in a class recently? Have you actually spoken to pupils about their expectations? If it were that poor, then we would have to start teaching new employees to read and write on their arrival at work. Can you honestly say that is the case in your place of work? I very much doubt it.

          Anyone involved in teaching in any way is always looking for ways to improve the quality if teaching and the outcomes of that teaching. It is hard work and is subject to constant interference and criticism by people with little understanding of pedagogy. What surprises me is that more teachers don't leave the profession, more surprising is that the many experts who criticise are not throwing their hats in the ring in order to show everyone how to do it better.

          1. Alfred

            @Peter Scott

            What do they mean by "IT literate"?

            It takes years to educate children to the point that they can use the written word to coherently express themselves in a mature fashion and coherently gather knowledge and understanding through reading (and the appropriate sifting, replicating, sorting etc. that we expect beyond being able to just say the word written on the page). Many people never reach this level.

            It takes a weekend to be taught to use Microsoft Word to the level of the average user (i.e. type things, cut n' paste, a couple of fonts and style options, a basic understanding of the file model and how to check the printer is plugged in). A weekend.

      2. Lee D Silver badge

        In my day, that's why we have Business Studies and Information Studies as separate concerns from Computer Science. Lumping it all together and calling it ICT doesn't help anyone.

        And I don't know of a single employer who would care what your answers would be to the EdExel GCSE ICT exams that I (and others, independently) have linked above, from 2011.

        "Explain one benefit of using a network cable rather than a wireless connection for online gaming."

        "Some people claim that playing video games is beneficial. Make a reasoned argument to support this point of view."

        Though maybe:

        "‘Nintendo thumb’ is one form of repetitive strain injury (RSI) associated with playing video games.

        State two things Mark can do to avoid RSI when playing games."


        And when I look at the marks offered for such junk - sheesh. Makes me glad I got my qualifications back in the day that GCSE's actually MATTERED and MEANT SOMETHING.

        1. Tom 38 Silver badge

          And I don't know of a single employer who would care what your answers would be to the EdExel GCSE ICT exams that I (and others, independently) have linked above, from 2011.

          You're still quoting from the C-G range exam.

          This exam is designed for idiots. If you do astonishingly well in the idiot exam, you can just scrape a passing grade of C. If you do less than astonishingly well in the idiot exam, then you fail - D or less. Most people who take the idiot exam fail.

          The vast majority of pupils do not take the idiot exam, since who wants to take an exam where even if you do brilliantly, you're still an idiot. Instead, they take the A-C exam.

          Still, it is funny to WATCH YOU get all DAILY MAIL AND SHOUTY.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        joke often does two years of your effort come down to writing out some answers in a couple of hours on a single day?

        It's called Just In Time delivery.

        1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

          Re: joke

          Every bloody day where I work

          Blasted customers suddenly change their minds on the number of castings needed today, just after you've started the change over to the next job.

          2 hrs to reset the robots, reload the tooling, pull in the programs , re-check the settings and finally hit the loud button without anything going boom..... all the time the boss is whining about delays, overtime, costs and the fact he has'nt got the balls to tell the customer to politely f*** off and stop hassling us on the phone until the parts are done.

          Gimme a 2-3 hr exam on which my entire life hangs anyday of the week

          PS what was that fuckwit prime minister on about?

  24. Peter 26

    "That Strawberry Pie thing was in the news for letting school children program computers, say something about that Prime Minister."

  25. Dan 55 Silver badge

    In the beginning there was Word...

    ... and Word came with Office, and Word was Office.

    So it makes perfect sense. We're now going beyond Word and doing modern things like coding.

  26. Crisp

    Re: Modern methods of computing like coding

    Well it sure beats hardwiring connections to the valves by hand!

  27. Davie Dee

    what are you on about?

    Im no Cameron fan but his statement makes sense. Remember that he isn't talking to you and I, his talking to the general public.

    sorry to say, but I think your being a bit of a cock on this one if im honest

    1. Joseph Haig

      Re: what are you on about?

      "Remember that he isn't talking to you and I, ..."

      I think you mean "you and me". OK, I wouldn't normally be this padentic but it seemed appropriate here. :-)

      I'm also not a Cameron fan and also think he is actually speaking sense here (and will probably also be voted down as a result). You and I know that programming is not a 'modern method' - in fact, you might argue that 'ancient' is a better adjective with regards the history of computing - but he is addressing people who have been brought up on word documents and spreadsheets. In this context, the notion that you can actually program a computer to do anything different is truely novel.

      I cannot help feeling that there is an air of "the Tories said it so it must be stupid" about this.

      1. John Styles

        Re: what are you on about?

        No, the point is that whilst I think most people here have teased out of what he said that this means 'go back to teaching proper programming skills' (e.g. the purpose of the Raspberry Pi project and foundation), his speech writers are too hopeless to come up with something accurate and not gibberish conveying this. I'm sure that you would be ashamed of coming up with something so wide of the mark in your daily working life and wouldn't accept colleages doing so.

  28. Alister Silver badge

    modern methods of computing like coding

    Yeah, you see "coding" is much more modern, none of your old fashioned "programming" thank you!

    After all, "programming" is all about punching holes in cards or swapping jumpers around, isn't it?

    Whereas "coding" is all pointy - clicky, copy - pasty, java - scripty type stuff, isn't it?

    See, I know all about computers, I do.

    1. John Styles

      Re: modern methods of computing like coding

      In my first software job (approx 30 years ago), saying 'programming' was looked down on - 'programming' was what amateurs did, whereas 'coding' was one of the stages in the waterfall model that proper developers did. I don't know how widely this view extended.

  29. Cliff

    Bless him

    He's out of his core area, but I guess saying we should teach more actual programming as a concept instead of just using Word. If he is, I agree. Computer as slave, not boss.

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Bless him

      David Cameron's "core area", written using set-theoretic methods:


  30. Pen-y-gors Silver badge


    No, Call-me-dave, we don't need more arithmetic in Maths lessons - by the time they get to secondary school and call the subject 'Maths' (rather than 'Sums') the pupils should be fully capable of doing 'arithmetic'. Maths lessons are for mathematics.

    1. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: Fail!

      +1. Arithmetic should be completely mastered by age 11 at the latest: there is no place at all for arithmetic in secondary education.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Re: Fail! - wow!

        So, every 11 y.o. in this country is completely at ease with number theory and mastered his Ramanujan's sum and Dirichlet characters? I'm impressed. My struggles with arithmetic really only started in the university...

        1. matt g

          Re: Fail! - wow!

          Arithmetic != arithmetic number theory.

          1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

            Re: Fail! - wow!

            The latter is an integral part of arithmetic, just like arithmetic is an integral part of mathematics.

  31. WonkoTheSane

    IT courses?

    Looks like he means "A RasPi in every lunchbox!" rather than lessons in driving MS Office.

  32. Iain Griffiths
    Thumb Up

    he meant +1 Like computing on Facebook

  33. ukgnome

    Those new programmable computers will never catch on.

  34. Yves Kurisaki

    I'm sure he meant that, instead of learning how to twitter, expose your personal details on Facebook or search for porn, programming would be a better skill to learn.

  35. Andrew Zeyfert

    It's just Dave…

    Why the shock and horror?

    Dave thinks we were "junior partners" in 1940.

    He doesn't know or want to know about things that he considers irrelevant.

    It's not fair to compare an overpromoted PR person with our mental image of the statesman (or woman) we so badly need.

    Dave won't change. Other changes might be possible.

  36. Efros

    The man is a

    Twonk, a complete and utter twonk.

  37. Shasta McNasty

    Nothing to see here

    His comments only serve to highlight the general level of ignorance when it comes down to how these "computer" thingys work.

  38. Richard IV

    Lemon juggling

    The current GCSE Maths syllabus has 6 key areas: Number, Algebra, Geometry, Measures, Statistics, Probability.

    Number and Algebra already makes up just under half of the course in terms of the things that kids need to learn. Measures, Statistics and Probability, when you read the course specifications, are effectively the mathematical foundations of science that aren't included in Number and Algebra. And Geometry is a canter through Euclid with all the stuff that will be dashed useful for this new app-driven economy that will allegedly be the result of teaching kids to code.

    What is Cameron saying? We'll do more of the maths that is what people who say they can't do maths mean by maths. We'll do more detail in science, which needs much of that maths that we've just effectively said we'll do less of, and we'll do more coding skillz, which needs the other bits that we've left out.

    So, what's the plan? Move Measures, Statistics and Probability into Science, and leave less room for the non-maths but still important detail bits of science - "only a" theories such as evolution? Make "coding" a 2 year exercise in joining the demo scene and have employers bemoaning the lack of algorithm analysis skills before we change everything again? We might have some very pretty apps that don't do much though. And roughly the same maths skills as we ever did.

    I'm off to juggle some lemons.

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Lemon juggling

      FWIW I took my exams at the beginning of the 90s, and never actually studied statistics in maths. I had to do pure and mechanics. All the stats I learnt was taught in science lessons and the stats course in my degree. (Not true for probabilities.)

      And I would put geometry as the "mathematical foundations of science". (General Relativity; groups in general and Lie Algebras in particular.)

  39. Christian Berger

    I'm fairly sure he didn't mean to educate people

    Educated people tend to be much harder to govern. They are more likely to criticize you for your mistakes. And they are likely to find out that things like DRM are complete bullshit and can never protect the content, but only harm the consumer.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More arithmetic.

    Jane has four oranges, Bill has 6 oranges.

    Bill may have worked more than the requisite number of his hours his hideously biased employment contract, because society fails to cope with Jane's needs, but that's irrelevant. Explain why Jane having less oranges than Bill is wrong, and this unfairness is all the fault of the Patriarchy.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: More arithmetic.

      "Explain why Jane having less oranges than Bill is wrong"

      Because Jane has fewer oranges?

      Okay, okay, I'm gone already....

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Save us from the ignorant.

    Presumably the speech was vetted by his advisers and yet this is all they could muster. It seems infantile.

  42. Andy Miller

    Modern is relative

    Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) is widely regarded as the first programmer. That's pretty modern for the reformation re-enactment society we have as a parliament.

  43. RikSaunderson
    Thumb Up

    *Actual* computer science, rather than fluff

    I think what the prime minister means is that students can currently choose to study 'IT' or 'Computer Science'. 'Computer Science' means coding and other useful things, 'IT' means learning what a barcode signifies and how to set a page break in Microsoft Word.

    1. Andy Miller
      Thumb Down

      Re: *Actual* computer science, rather than fluff

      If that's what he means, then I'd agree. However, if that is what he meant, then he would have said "more core" or "more technical"; rather than "more modern". I was taught programming at school, before Word was invented.

      If he believes that in the beginning was Word, and coding came latter, than he neither knows his facts (which Mr Gove thinks is bad) nor can he find them out (which I think is bad).

  44. BlueGreen

    "more clarity on punctuation and spelling in English" no, fuckwit

    Language is about communication, so teach the poor sprogs to communicate with it - clearly, accurately, concisely - and teach them to understand how it is abused, in advertising, self-serving politicians and by demagogues, so as to innoculate them against manipulation.

    Do not fuck about imposing pointless years of extra learning on them to internalise the near-irrelevant cruft which due to historical accident is baroque, irregular and distracting.

    Language is an ocean - teach them to jump in and swim! Not strand them on the shore making them polish the pebbles.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "more clarity on punctuation and spelling in English" no, fuckwit

      I am not really sure what your point is.

      You say "Language is about communication ... communicate with it - clearly, accurately, concisely..."

      In order to communicate clearly and accurately one must understand the rules, so that others can understand one's words by applying the same rules.

      Do you think it would be reasonable for me to expect you to write a functioning program in C without any training or reference at all? No, it would not.

      Likewise it is impossible to communicate successfully in any language without being taught how it works.

      1. BlueGreen

        Re: "more clarity on punctuation and spelling in English" no, fuckwit

        Emphasis on spelling and punctuation is attention to detail such that the primary purpose of language - communication - risks being de-emphasised. Certainly punctuation has value, and spelling to some common convention is (arguably) necessary, but these alone are trifling. I thought I made it clear: "...and [to] teach them to understand how it is abused, in advertising, self-serving politicians and by demagogues, so as to innoculate them against manipulation". This was my point and if you accept that, I think you must accept that improved spelling and punctuation do bugger all. Yes? No?

        I've seen the crap torrented out of highly educated people (a couple of my university profs could lecture very well but their book was almost incomprehensible, every sentence a maze of ill-defined fluff, double or triple negatives, and much more), in fact Orwell did an excellent essay on crap writing: <>. It's an excellent read, and here's exhibit 1:

        "I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate".

        Punctuation OK, spelling OK, but is it good english?

        It's well worth reading the rest.

        I dunno about your 'rules'. I don't know the parts of language beyond what a verb is; I certainly couldn't parse an english sentence and I don't see how it would benefit me if I could. It's trivial. I therefore reject your claim that "it is impossible to communicate successfully in any language without being taught how it works".

        "Do you think it would be reasonable for me to expect you to write a functioning program in C without any training or reference at all? No, it would not." - agreed, but natural and artificial languages are very different creatures, and there's a *lot* more to programming that syntax. Which is my point.

        BTW Chaucer couldn't spell for toffee. I gather he's quite well spoken of. Shakespeare seemed a little unsteady on that front as well, and seemed to struggle a little with his own name <>. But it didn't stop him either.

        The smaller the issue the more people get uptight and dogmatic over it. For any 'issue'.

  45. a cynic writes...

    The Two Cultures

    In case no one's noticed the Two Cultures thing is going strong. And Cameron in common with all of the current crop of politicians is from the other one. The reason he sounds a bit ignorant is because he is.

    However despite the fact he doesn't really know what he's talking about it I think they're moving in the right direction. A few years ago my daughter did GCSE ICT and it was pathetic, essentially just MS Office training. My youngest is currently doing GCSE Computing and it certainly isn't. His school also opted out of the GCSE as not being hard enough and instead use the iGCSE for the sciences.

    I have more sympathy with the criticism of Cameron's comments on Maths. Arithmetic shouldn't need to be the focus at GCSE level and children should leave primary school with the ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Unfortunately many of them don't. How we square that particular circle I don't know.

  46. nelson777

    Zeitgeist Movement

    “Politicians are not trained to solve problems; technicians are trained to solve problems. ” —Jacques Fresco.

  47. mhoulden

    Education policy tends to alternate between reformists and traditionalists, and at the moment we've got a load of traditionalists in power. In due course I'm sure we'll get some more reformists with their own ideas of how things should be done.

    The current ICT exams were held in the last couple of weeks so I had a look at a few Edexcel past papers to see what sort of things they were examined on. Unfortunately the subject matter is both antiquated and tedious. The January 2012 paper involves basic use of word processors, spreadsheets and databases. The June 2011 short course higher tier paper includes questions on ROM, RAM and CPUs. Important to know, but not exactly the most exciting things to learn. It also includes one question that is downright incorrect: "John illegally copies music from a CD given to him by a friend. He can be prosecuted under [which act]?". The correct answer is none: copyright infringement is not a prosecutable offence.

    The full GCSE paper has questions on graphics using turtles, and designing flow charts. The 1980s called: they want their tedious questions back. I know turtle graphics are suppose to introduce people to the idea of vector graphics and sequences of instructions, but there are better ways of doing so. In most GUI-based languages, if you want to draw a circle or a rectangle, you call a Circle() or Rectangle() function. While it is a good idea to sit down and work out the best way to handle process flows, you certainly don't need all the little shapes used in flowcharts. Possibly the start and stop, database and decision ones, but not the user input, paper output or offline storage ones. I've worked with hugely complex systems with process flow diagrams that cover lots of A1 sheets of paper, but they don't use half the symbols the GCSE ICT flowcharts do.

    One problem I think ICT has is that it's trying to do everything "computing". Imagine if lessons in the use of a pen and paper were separate from English classes, or colouring in was separate from Art. Sure there's a place for learning the basics, like handwriting classes before you go on to write stories in English, but after that I think it would be better to use computers in other lessons just as a tool and leave the ICT classes for specific "computing" tasks. Using a word processor to create documents for a fictitious event is incredibly boring, but it has more use if you had to write up something in English or even foreign language classes. Teaching the use and misuse of spreadsheets in maths would help people understand their uses a lot better than budgeting for a make-believe party. As for computer graphics and DTP in art...

    Freeing up ICT so it didn't have to cover "applied" uses would make it a lot more interesting. Politician-type "coding" can be pretty unappealing as it's basically algebra. Making programming interesting could involve something like designing a basic game or a web-based library catalogue. Networking could involve a class project to take a collection of PCs, hook them up together to share files, and get them sharing a single connection to the Internet, with appropriate security. Doing databases as simple data entry and form design can be even more boring than having to design Powerpoint slides. With appropriate teaching you could demonstrate when to use a spreadsheet and when to use a database instead, which might even help to get away from the "Excel as a database" idea that's far too common. Explaining IT security in terms of what not to share on Facebook (even more important with Prism) and how to avoid dodgy websites would be a lot more relevant than the idea of being infected by computer viruses on floppy disks

    This all takes a bit more imagination than the old "computer studies" curriculums that have been around since at least the 80s. Assuming children start at infant school from 4 and stay on until at least 16, that's a very long time for technology to change. It is important to learn the principles (I see people making the same mistakes on Facebook that email users did when I first got online in 1997), but trying to apply "traditional" values doesn't really work. When I started at school there was one BBC Master for the whole school, and when I finished we had networked PCs running Windows 3.1 and Netware.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Please don't conflate ICT and Computing, they are different courses. ICT is about information and communications technology, necessarily a broader topic than computing which has a narrower focus. Think about the ICTs you use on a daily basis, how do you obtain information and how do you communicate. Then look at the technology underpinning those tasks.

      Much of the syllabus is about authentic activity and enculturation of the tools involved in ICTs, not about learning to program a computer,

      The point regarding traditionalists and reformists is apposite, the problem is the reformists are often working based on current research while traditionalists are looking back to how they were taught. There is a role for rote learning but there is more to be gained from looking at participative learning. No matter how many facts you learn, unless you put them into practice your understanding will be incomplete.

  48. cbars

    Hmm. Brains in Government

    Anyone remember David Nutt?

    I think the Government just doesn't like anyone with any Intelligence anywhere near them.

    This includes speech writers; If a speech writer came along, and suggested anything useful to say, they would either lose their job, or become an MP themselves - and then have no time to think about anything useful anymore - what with all that second Mortgage paperwork.

    Unfortunately, people with real brains get more money and/or less hassle outside of Government, so we are doomed to this state of affairs.

    Poor bloody kids.

  49. Primus Secundus Tertius

    Grammar Schools Needed

    See here.

    What we need are grammar schools, midstream schools, and lowIQ schools, in the

    ratio 1:4:1.

    Then we can teach the appropriate material in each type of school.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Grammar Schools Needed

      Imagine if all those high-tech startups were required to hire to the intelligence demographics of the nation. One good programmer, 4 mediocre, 1 idiot?

      Apple would still be designing coring tools!

      Yet that's how we set up schools. Perish the thought that bright kids get a focused challenging education!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Grammar Schools Needed

      I failed my 11+. I worked my way through HND Bsc MSc PhD after lots of grind working in factories/lab technician etc. Of the two boys I walked to school with, one is now a GP and the other a Solicitor. My mate in guitar club, got a 2:1 in chemical engineering from imperial.

      It has been estimated that 25% were misplaced by an exam taken at 11.

      My GP friend was initially placed in the 5 out of 6th lowest stream (meaning as adults virtually illiterate and inumerate)

      I could go on, but we were put in an environment where we would not have passed, say O level chemistry, had we not been interested and read around the subject. In fact my friend who got the chem eng degree, like me was not even put in for both O level maths and english. Our fathers had to pay for that (we both passed btw).

      The grammar schools encouraged a two tier schooling system. No decent teachers wanted to teach at a secondary modern. It was a very cruel system: it meant if you were of the 75% or so who failed, it was a very difficult climb out. I know some bright boys from that school who drifted into crime and drugs. Some are dead.

      Personally I feel the motivation for grammar schools comes from the same school of thought as eugenics: apply a test, and throw away the rest. Please don't moderate this one. I have gone for a 10k run in the meantime to calm down.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This shows the failed education system and clueless politicians...where have the real educators gone???

  51. Jim O'Reilly

    Buy the kid a phone!

    Kids get more IT training from using a phone. Advanced level is using a tablet.

    All schools can offer is a turn at the computer lab once a week, and "Keyboarding" which involves tapping on a sheet of cardboard.

    No wonder our kids aren't turned on to learning. We still primarily use 1860's methods of teaching.

    1. M Gale

      Re: Buy the kid a phone!

      "We still primarily use 1860's methods of teaching."

      Uniforms with so much starch you can cut yourself on the creases, lessons taught through the use of the cane, and lefties getting their hands tied behind their back to teach them to "write properly"?

  52. Kevin Murrell

    It's from the same thought processes of BBC (so-called tech) journalists that think stringing together a few lines of HTML is coding. The PM can't imagine what computing is really about because he wont have seen anything more than Facebook and his email account. There seems to be a growing idea in government that computing can now be reduced to a few apps, and all the past problems of large IT projects will go away now that Apple or Google can do it for us. Creation of large software systems is as complex as it ever was - huge amounts of thought, creativity and sheer inventiveness is needed by well trained and intelligent people. It doesn't matter whether it's coded in COBOL or Ruby you can still do a good or bad job!

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I wanted to comment on this article as a Senior Leader in education combined with experience of being a technologist.

    The comments referred to in this article originated about a year and a half ago when Mr Gove revealed at the BETT Show 2012 that he wanted to see more of the practical side of ICT introduced into the curriculum (whether or not we differentiate and call this "Computing" is a matter for debate amongst educationalists). His intention, I think, was to create opportunities for pupils with an interest in the technical side of ICT to find an outlet to express this.

    As a technologist I do feel the need to comment that "coding" is only one discipline within the field of IT. I think an analogy with medicine is appropriate here. If you take a geriatricist and present them with a child, saying "Fix this!", and are then surprised when they question their own suitability for the task... then you have fundamentally misunderstood how many people enter and progress through a technological career. To say to this geriatricist, protesting their innocence, "Well, you're a DOCTOR?!" is to misperceive the variety of specialism that exists within the IT field... unless you work at a school, of course!

    Overall I do support Mr Gove's intentions, though I must admit that he might do even better to expand upon this and introduce material suitable for other professions within the "umbrella field" of IT as well, such as network administrators, database administrators, web designers and so forth.

    Certainly I do think it would be better for our pupils if we could offer a personalised curriculum that tailors their interest in specific areas of ICT to practical courses that make good use of peer-led formative assessment to stimulate innovation in the classroom.

  54. Infernoz Bronze badge

    Lots of snipes at bottom of the heap profession trash like C*; state education isn't!

    Government Education is an oxymoron, the government does not provide education, it provides rote competence, conditioning, and propaganda, with faint glimpses of real education.

    If you want to get genuinely educated, of which the Trivium is part of, DIY: be curious, read loads, try stuff out, and be prepared to break rules, conventions, and statutes (fake law).

  55. TheOtherHobbes

    Cameron and the Bullingdons

    Tough on education.

    Tough on the causes of education.

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