back to article Technology doesn’t widen the education divide. People do that

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  1. steelpillow Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Indeed

    Do hammers or wheels or aeroplanes affect the education divide? Only if wielded by people who are trying to affect it or don't care if they do. Technology is just an enabler, what we do with it is our fault.

    1. Mike 137 Silver badge

      "what we do with it is our fault"

      I agree. A important problem is the assumption that "technology" means computers" and they must be used everywhere. This has led in some cases to decline in the effectiveness of education. For example, practical exercises in physics (particularly electronics) are frequently conducted using (at elementary level) sealed computerised modules or simulation at more advanced level. This of course leaves out all the uncertainties that surround the use of real components, understanding of which distinguishes the expert in electronics from the non-expert.

      An example of the problem is the PHYS:BIT "potential divider" demonstrator, a closed design computerised wheeze which conceals the real (and incredibly simple) workings of potential dividers behind a crude representation that, for all the student knows, could be delivered by any mechanism at all, including just an arbitrary program driving the display. The truth is concealed to the extent that in one place the supplied lesson plan requires (specifically) a straight line to be drawn through some points on a graph and then asks "Can you explain why there is a straight line through the data in the Voltage versus Resistance graph. (Hint: Ohm’s law)". A smart student might well respond "because you told me to draw one. Furthermore, the entire experiment could be performed for around the same cost using a few resistors, some jump leads and a really cheap pocket multimeter,. This would not only expose the real workings of potential dividers (including their idiosyncrasies) better but could be applied to other experiments as well.

      Not every learning situation demands, or can even necessarily profit from, computerisation, and even where it's necessary the way it's applied can be an important consideration. I say that advisedly as the developer of an experiment automation application for controlling lab test gear. In such contexts, computers are extremely useful in support of observation and thinking, but cause serious problems when they're used to supplant them. We designed our application to automate the task as far as possible without concealing from the user either what is going on or how it works. As a result, the application can be used not only to automate vendor equipment but as a basis for developing and controlling one's own inventions. And that's what learning is really about.

      1. Richard Jones 1

        Re: "what we do with it is our fault"

        What an excellent comment, one that explains how miss-applied intentions damage rather than enhance learning. I never got on with languages, in part because they were, to me, a series of meaningless black boxes, that changed according to some arbitrary rules. Physics, chemistry and maths moved things and did things in my day, linking cause and effect. Education needs the right tools available to a teacher with the right skill sets to choose the right tool for each objective they need to cover.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: "what we do with it is our fault"

          That's an intersting example, languages were taught at my school in the way its Grammar School predecessors were taught Latin. By rote. I don't learn by rote. I just can't. Not French verbs, not multiplication tables. I failed.

          I learnt my own way to get tables/multiplication.

          I discovered, after I left school that I had a talent for picking up languages in situ .

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: "what we do with it is our fault"

            "I don't learn by rote. I just can't."

            It wasn't until high school that I got a teacher (an art teacher teaching geography but with a dose of philosophy) that I was finally taught how to analyze the ways I learn best. That was a big turning point. In college I picked up "Where there's a Will, there's an A" and that taught me techniques to get through classes with better grades even if I didn't have the talent or interest (two sides to the same thing). I'm an expert in taking tests. I have a stack of certifications in things I'm woefully underprepared to actually do. I know that I'm not competent in those things, but the certs open the doors to things I am qualified for. I don't take on work I'm not confident I can do well which keeps me out of trouble.

      2. Boothy

        Re: "what we do with it is our fault"

        When I was in secondary school (UK late 80s), we touched on electronics in my physics class.

        We had these large square plastic panels (around 18" a side at a guess), with square metal pins, each about an inch high, and a couple of inches apart, laid out in a square grid, with each of the four sides of the pins having a groove.

        We then has sets of small, hand sized, pieces, that had either 2 or 4 clips, that would push into the groves, electrically connecting to the metal pins. Each of these pieces had a symbol on one side, resistor, capacitor, transistor, potentiometer, bulb etc etc. With the actual electronic components soldered to the underside, and if a pot or bulb the appropriate part went through a hole on top, so you could see it, or turn it, as needed. There was also bridging pieces, with just a straight bit of wire.

        You then built your circuits how you wanted. Basically like a big chucky bread-board, but a bit more child proof! Plug in each component, making up your circuit.

        I though these things were brilliant, as you had the symbols on one side, which would correlate directly with circuit diagrams, but a quick glance underneath, and you could see what the actual real components looked like and how they all related with each other.

        We built everything from simple electrical loops to start with (bulb+switch), to learning about the relationship between volts, current & power (bulb+pot+meters). It included volt and current meters that could be plugged into the boards, so up the voltage with a pot, see the meter go up, see the current increase, watch the bulb get brighter etc.

        All the way through to quite complex logic circuits spread out over multiple boards. All made from discreate components. No ICs, the only silicon we had being diodes and transistors. I remember building a multi digit adding machine. (two 4 digit (binary) numbers in), a binary counter etc etc.

        The logic stuff got me hooked.

        The flexibility of the system encouraged experimentation, and so did our teacher!

        1. William Towle
          Holmes

          Re: "what we do with it is our fault"

          > When I was in secondary school (UK late 80s), we touched on electronics in my physics class.

          Nod, I remember (spoiler alert) literally doing that.

          In the task following a demonstration where a large capacitor could be made to briefly flash a mains bulb from a small battery, we ran out of switches.

          "Don't worry", said my lab partner, "this morse code tapping key I've spotted will suffice".

          Shaking off a large jolt from accidentally touching it mid-experiment I shook myself and warned "be careful, it tickles a bit".

          "Wimp!", said the other boy ... and promptly jumped six feet in the air when he ended up doing the same!

          // The teacher's name? Newton. Thanks to also having a Mr Poulton he was occasionally known as Neutron (and Proton, respectively - as physics and chemistry teachers, the "nucleus of the science department" *groan*) but mostly we called him Isaac :)

          1. Mike 137 Silver badge

            Re: "what we do with it is our fault"

            "Shaking off a large jolt ..."

            The problem is ancient. My father's school physics teacher (1930s) was demonstrating a Wimshurst machine, intending to cause a big spark. He failed to notice that someone had replaced the brass spark gap electrodes with vulcanite ones (presumably to do charge experiment). He wound and wound the handle but nothing happened. So at last he assumed the spark gap was too large, grabbed the electrode arms to adjust them and positively lit up.

          2. Boothy

            Re: "what we do with it is our fault"

            The best (if you can call it that!) jolt I ever managed was whilst on a course at the local technical college.

            We did a module on TVs, including fault finding, which inevitable meant sometimes having to diagnose a fault on a live running TV. CRTs back then of course.

            We had these rather old black and white CRT TVs, donated I believe from a local rental company once they were no use for renting out anymore.

            These consisted of two large PCB boards, one in the bottom of the case (tuning, audio etc), and one mounted round the neck of the tube (coil controls, electron gun etc).

            Nothing surface mount and a single sided board, all discrete resistors, capacitors, transistors etc. All with legs poked through the back of the PCB, and soldered in place. Judging by the random leg lengths, trimmed on the back of the boards, all components looked like they'd been fitted by hand one at a time, rather than a solder bath etc. Like I said, quite old.

            I was taking some measurements with an Avometer on the tube component board, which had it's back facing me, components facing the inside of the case, using a couple of pointed probes, tracing a voltage through, pushing the probe against the solder pads on the back of the board. Sometimes this took a bit of pressure to push down to make a contact.

            Probe slipped of course! Hand hit the back of the board, fingers first, got a component leg jammed into my middle finger UNDER the nail! Just ouch from that.

            But of course turned out to be one of the high voltage, high frequency lines, my entire right hand and arm just locked up. Basically I froze in place, apparently with a face looking like a manic Cheshire cat, big fixed grin!

            Thankfully as this was lab work, we were all in pairs, and there was a big red power kill button on the desk, which after a few seconds, once my lab partner realised I wasn't actually joking around, he hit, cutting power off.

            Rather sore finger for a few days, but otherwise no harm done, well none that I know of!

            1. Cliffwilliams44 Silver badge

              Re: "what we do with it is our fault"

              Old style self contained Macintosh. One of the procedures when adding or replacing memory was to use a special tool to drain the fly back capacitor on the internal monitor. I task where we always never has that tool with us or was just too time consuming. You had to reach into the area near the back of the CRT to install the memory. One day my left hand brushed the solder points of the fly back capacitor. I regained consciousness 5 feet away sitting against a wall.

      3. Cliffwilliams44 Silver badge

        Re: "what we do with it is our fault"

        The way I see this is that, technology, i,e, Computers (and all the relevant hand held devices) in conjunction with the internet, just makes thing far too easy for the person doing the instructing. Just plot the little buggers in front of the screen and tell them to "Do this". Then the instructor can sit at their desk and drink their coffee in peace.There is no interaction, no human communication. Maybe this is why our young people are such social misfits!

        I see this in other areas also.In parenting, and one the really annoys me, Real Estate sales!

        I had a customer early in my career who was a real estate broker. Before technology and the internet were a thing, he trained his people well, on all the techniques and practices used to properly market and sell a home so I know a thing or 2 about that industry. I have also sold several homes in my life. But now with the advent of the internet, a real estate sales person just takes picture of your house, places it on the internet and waits! They don't do much else, and then want to get paid 6% for their total lack of effort!

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: "what we do with it is our fault"

          "But now with the advent of the internet, a real estate sales person just takes picture of your house, places it on the internet and waits! They don't do much else, and then want to get paid 6% for their total lack of effort!"

          The agents that do the lest amount of work tend to be hobbyists with a spouse that is paying all of the bills. A good agent will be doing much more. While the seller will pay a typical commission of 6%, their agent doesn't get all of that money. The buyer's agent gets half and there are hands out all up and down the line for much of the rest. The seller's agent may wind up with 1% out of which they have to pay all of their costs. This can include hiring a photographer, drone operator, videographer, graphic artists, somebody to plant the sign, fees due to maintain their license, continuing education, etc. Lets not forget meeting all of the lookeeloos at the property to give them a tour.

          There is an old saying that "the enemy also makes plans". The same holds for real estate. Every other agent is doing many of the same things to market a property so those things wind up cancelling out. For an agent to attract new customers, they need to have some sort of edge that makes sense for sellers to use them over any other agent.

      4. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: "what we do with it is our fault"

        'Not every learning situation demands, or can even necessarily profit from, computerisation, and even where it's necessary the way it's applied can be an important consideration."

        A couple of friends and I had Radio Shack 100 in 1 electronics kits. The hands-on aspect of building the circuits was a big part of the fun. Unfortunately, electronics in school wasn't offered until much later after we had completed all of the projects in the supplied book and moved on to other toys. I think from there it was getting a "little builder's" tool box and a pile of scrap wood. Adding a computer and simulating the physical part is a level of abstraction that wouldn't have interested me at a young age. I got into rockets in middle school and it was all about building and launching them. It wasn't until much later that I was keen to know how to design them and what made one fly higher and faster than another (other than cramming in the largest engine I could get my hands on).

        Rolling balls down an incline plane is more fun at a young age over doing the same thing virtually. Dropping water balloons off of a high school building can be lots of fun too. Both activities will demonstrate physical concepts in a way that is engaging to certain age groups. Having Barney the purple dinosaur doing the experiments on a computer screen would make me want to wretch. When it gets to the level of needing a cyclotron to demonstrate the concept, it can make more sense to use a computer simulation. Perhaps a field trip to a lab that has one would suffice.

  2. Terry 6 Silver badge

    I am a teacher

    Fourty years of experience tells me that what matters most are; language skills, social skills and problem solving/thinking skills. These include, of course good literacy and numeracy.

    IT skills can certainly be included with those too and can even reinforce them, but ultimately the IT skills depend on that fundamental list.

    But the key issue is the word I've used most- "skills".

    Because education should not really be about skills. Skills are what we devolop within education. Education is about opening doors to understanding and opportunity.

    Then the kids can see where their future direction lies, be it coding, tennis, fashion design, cooking or writing critically aclaimed novels that no one wants to read.

    Teaching coding as a panacea is plain mad. Not more than a handful will have an aptitude for it, not all of them will want to pursue it for a lifetime. Many will absolutely hate it and may even have their attitude to education ruined by this and the whole Gradgrind, utilitarian approach to education we seem to have now.

    It's not even a new thing. In the 60s and 70s it was teaching "workshop" for the lads- metal work, woodwork. For the girls it was cooking and typing, which with hindsight would have been a bloody sight more useful for most of us than knowing how to make a dovetail joint ( which I never did manage to do) or turn a lathe ( which they quite sensibly kept me well away from).

    Ironically I learnt to code in options and afterschool and lunchtime groups- voluntarily .

    1. My-Handle

      Re: I am a teacher

      I was taught "coding" in one form or another at three different points during my education. The lessons were either dead boring or were near-impenetrable. I came out of very few of them any the wiser.

      What really spurred on my learning was a) a "java for dummies" book and the goal of making my own version of space invaders, and b) a massive organisational fustercluck at work that really needed streamlining and access to the internet.

      I made the jump from MS Access form buttons, to macros, then to VBA within a few short months. I'm now developing websites in .Net

    2. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: I am a teacher

      I have been programming since before the first wave of 'technology for kids' hit in the 1980s. Since my wife is a Physics teacher she caught the brunt of this, having to go on innumerable courses to learn this and that so it could be taught to kids. I was skeptical then and I'm skeptical now simply because writing code is relatively trivial compared to the actual mechanics of understanding and organizing solutions to problems (which, funnily enough, is what you learn in Physics and Mathematics classes).

      Technology is useful, though. In recent years her students have applied their phones to observing and measuring phenomena. They even used it for conferencing in absent students before remote learning made this commonplace. Where its been a nuisance is when school policy changed, probably due to a successful sales campaign, and her laboriously constructed test and measurement got subsumed to the new wave of technology with its attendant support problems. (Fortunately she was able to retire before this got too bad -- the problem being that mentioning problems with technology when you're of a 'certain age' means you obviously don't understand 'computers' rather than than the new, improved, tools not working properly.)

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: I am a teacher

        @martinusher

        "writing code is relatively trivial compared to the actual mechanics of understanding and organizing solutions to problems"

        You could not have said it better, but tell that to most software developers. They're typically embedded in a "how <insert language> works" mind set that tends to completely ignore whether an implementation is functionally optimum or not. There's usually very poor communication between specifiers and coders, resulting in too many detail decisions being left to the coders. Even agile user stories are generally much too lacking in detail for safety, so many design decisions get implemented without proper functional validation.

        The main missing lesson is the basic principle that where there are alternative approaches to solving a problem they should be discussed, not decided unilaterally. However in my experience many developers get annoyed by "being challenged" by anyone not as au fait as themselves with the programming language being used - there seems to be an assumption that the language, rather than the product design specification, dictates the algorithms. Could this be why many software products don't behave as expected?

        1. Electronics'R'Us
          Thumb Up

          Re: I am a teacher

          I have been a designer of software and hardware for decades and if you don't have the equivalent of asbestos underwear then design is not for you.

          There are hard questions to answer at the initial design phase of any project. By the time it comes to implementation all those questions should have been (mostly) answered. What is a solution to the problem is the first one; there are usually many ways to solve a design problem and the least important question is usually "What language will the software use".

          That question gets answered by how the solution can be implemented using a language most appropriate to that solution. It may be dictated by the domain - a great deal of safety critical runs on Ada but there are other languages that are appropriate provided they can be properly verified.

          There might not be any software at all.

          I have done a lot of designs where the question was not "What microprocessor / microcontroller is best for this task?" but "Should I use a microprocessor microcontroller for this task?"

          So the detailed part of the design requires choices (what specific parts do I use) but the overall architecture is far more important and requires significant critical thinking and a willingness to discuss alternative approaches.

          Even in the details of the design, some parts are more appropriate than others and can actually change parts of the overall solution. That is what design is all about - making trade-offs to arrive at a solution that meets the requirements as set out.

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: I am a teacher

            "I have done a lot of designs where the question was not "What microprocessor / microcontroller is best for this task?" but "Should I use a microprocessor microcontroller for this task?""

            I was just watching a video on YouTube where the presenter was overcomplicating the design by starting with a timer chip and replacing it with a pair of comparators. All he really needed was a resistor and capacitor to add a small amount of delay to a transistor turning on. The was no need for much precision. A friend of mine took some classes on digital signal processing and one of the assignments was to add a high pass filter to a process. The students that took a digital approach worked their tails off to try and come up with a program to get the DSP chip to do the filtering, but that was a trap. There was no way to do it that way without slurping up all of the capability of the chip. My friend came from an analog background and lots of it. His approach was to put a capacitor on the front end (or maybe an RC network) and was the only one in class to get full marks. The teacher had been emphasizing finding the simplest approach to a problem but nobody thought that in a DSP class, not using DSP would be the solution. I'm just cheeky enough that I might have also submitted the same thing my friend did. I've done that sort of thing before when it wasn't the intention of the instructor and any time I was marked down for it, I was always able to argue my approach and get a good grade. Not every instructor may entertain alternate approaches so your mileage may vary.

            1. Mike 137 Silver badge

              Re: I am a teacher

              nobody thought that in a DSP class, not using DSP would be the solution

              I've faced exactly the same kind of problem. Our instrumentation controller is written in Java, but solely because we need cross-platform executability. In other respects, Java has proved to be a bad choice. The application is essentially a real time system, but natively (i.e. just using the standard libraries and instantiating everything as transient objects) Java is really bad at that. So I have to get developers to break with their ingrained Java mindset. This is actually very hard, not least as it involves persuading them to think outside "object oriented" and code statically to avoid delays and timing jitter caused by unnecessary instantiation of large numbers of objects and automatic garbage collection. Doing this, however, has improved timing precision and consistency is some areas by several decade orders.

    3. Cliffwilliams44 Silver badge

      Re: I am a teacher

      You know, my grandson went through something like this. He had an interest in technology, He was exposed to it from me, and IT professional. In 6th grade he took a technology class, But the instructor spent the entire 1st half of the class teaching typing, even timing them for "words per minute". It nearly nearly soured his whole attitude toward technology as a career.

      Luckily it did not. He took his 1st coding class this summer in preparation to attend Florida Polytech and he really like the class.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: I am a teacher

        "But the instructor spent the entire 1st half of the class teaching typing, even timing them for "words per minute"."

        It sounds like a very poor syllabus. I learned typing in a typing class along with a class in "business English", a class that was offered as an alternative to a more standard class of diagramming sentences and memorizing vocabulary which bored me to tears. It may be been better to have a prerequisite of typing or the teachers permission for the class. A standard typing class helps a bit, but coding requires the use of so many special symbols that it might not be a huge handicap to not being a proficient typist. Certainly not in the beginning when there are so many other things that will wind up slowing a student down.

    4. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: I am a teacher

      "It's not even a new thing. In the 60s and 70s it was teaching "workshop" for the lads- metal work, woodwork. For the girls it was cooking and typing, which with hindsight would have been a bloody sight more useful for most of us than knowing how to make a dovetail joint ( which I never did manage to do) or turn a lathe ( which they quite sensibly kept me well away from)."

      We had woodshop, leathercraft, sewing and cooking. Both boys and girls were in each class so I guess we were very progressive for the time. They had dropped metalwork the year before as there were too many injuries. At this point looking back, it should have been two years rather than one. I loved cooking and the shop classes and tolerated the sewing class. I could have done with more sewing instruction since I do a lot more of it now than I thought I ever would. Being something of a maker, it's a good skill to have. The bigger your toolbox, the more creative you tend to be. I have a jig and a router bit for making dovetail joints and both are covered in dust.

    5. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: I am a teacher

      "Fourty years of experience tells me that what matters most are; language skills, social skills and problem solving/thinking skills. These include, of course good literacy and numeracy."

      Mastering the basics has to happen before they can be built upon. In this day and age, learning to type might also need to be thrown in and joined up writing thrown out (mostly).

      I find that it's appropriate to teach things when students are at the correct age. Trying to teach politics to a 10 year old is useless. It has little direct effect on their lives from their perspective even if it does mean quite a lot to their parent(s). I'm not sure it would be a good idea to encourage interest in politics of a 10 yo, but I would encourage computer programming, music, art or another subject if they have the talent or interest. It doesn't take a mature knowledge of the world to play the piano (or drums).

  3. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    The problem with modern education is the focus. The focus is getting good grades in exams. The system doesn't care if the pupils understand the subject, just so long as the pupil can put the right answer on the exam paper. (My partner used to be a teacher and their pay was linked to the kids' exam results. Poor exams results meant a smaller pay packet) The reason for this focus is that exam results are easy to measure for league tables (and teacher's pay packets!) whereas "understanding" is far too nebulous to measure.

    But it's understanding, ability to think & willingness to learn that I need as an employer. I don't give a flying fig about exam results (school, university, professional or vendor)

    But school, college & university is more than just learning Maths, English, etc. It's also about developing as a person - and you don't do that from a powerpoint slide or YouTube video. It's about learning to respect others, make friends, asking that boy/girl out you've got the hots for (and making a fool of yourself in the process!) These things require real-world human interaction.

    As to the question "Does technology help/hinder education", technology should be a helper, not the driver in education (unless you're teaching IT!) A crap teacher will still be a crap teacher even if you give them (and their pupils) £100k of the latest education tech. A pupil is unlikely to grasp fundamental concepts better or quicker if they have the latest laptop and fastest broadband. A great teacher could probably deliver an engaging & productive lesson in a bare room.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Unfortunately I can only give you one upvote. I won't name the University, I'll just say it is in the Russell group, but I remember the ordering of topics in a course I was to teach being dictated by when the kiddies had to take their little tests, rather than in the underlying logic of the subject. That just summed it all up for me.

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Realities of "teaching"

        "course I was to teach being dictated by when the kiddies had to take their little tests"

        Ditto.

        I've taught electronics and "ICT" to UK level 4, and in both cases the "tutor pack" contained everything required including a crib sheet of answers to all the tests so the "tutor" didn't have to know the subject. In both cases also, the student practicals were patronisingly trivial. For example on the electronics course the sole PCB practical consisted of "write your name on a piece of copper clad board with a resist pen, then put it through the automated etch machine". I broke the rules, and (this was in the hand taping days) taught them about track widths, spacing, corners and layout decisions. Fortunately, the faculty supported my decision. However the examining body could have decided to fail all my (better informed) students because we hadn't stuck to the syllabus. Fortunately again, they didn't, largely because of the faculty support.

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      This ties in well with some coments in this El Reg thread

      When the target becomes more significant than what it is intended to measure

      https://forums.theregister.com/forum/all/2021/09/13/who_me/

      That being said, in the UK and I think the USA targets ( and UK OFSTED) probably are more about keeping teachers in line. The idealogues within governments wanting us to teach stuff we know is of little value in ways we know don't work.

      (An obvious example, few teachers -even the younger ones- have much belief in the value of relying on phonics for teaching reading. But the behaviourists whom the government trust and the vested interests they listen to love it. It's cheap to produce, simple to undestand and easy to maeasure. It might not make the kids good readers. But they'll reach benchmarks and sell lots of stuff.)

      1. Cliffwilliams44 Silver badge

        In the US we teach so much useless garbage to K-12 kids that a high school diploma is literally useless!

        If I were given dictatorial power in a K-12 school district I could educate young people to be job worthy when the graduate high school! IT skills, accounting, design, science, carpentry, electronics, electricians, plumbers, machinists, mechanics. If they want to take it to the next level and go to university then great, they can, but if they want to get a job then they can do that also.

        But we don't do that because the higher education industry has become a money maker for so many people and the mantra that "everyone must go to college" is just this industry and their political allies feeding them a steady stream on income.

    3. SundogUK Silver badge

      "It's about learning to respect others, make friends, asking that boy/girl out you've got the hots for (and making a fool of yourself in the process!)"

      If you needed school for this, you're doing it wrong.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Do you expect them to do this remotely at home?

    4. Cliffwilliams44 Silver badge

      Exactly! We have finally done away with the stupid "standardized test" that were forced on schools during the G.W Bush years here in Florida. All that was getting done was the teachers were teaching and the students were learning to pass the test! They were not learning the whole depth of the subject matter.

      It like hiring an IT person who has all these cool certifications and finding out after the fact that the only thing they really know is what was on the test. When faced with a real problem they have no idea how to troubleshoot and resolve it!

    5. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "But school, college & university is more than just learning Maths, English, etc. It's also about developing as a person"

      mmmmmmmm. To a certain extent, but there are also plenty of examples of schools indoctrinating extreme views rather than adding to personal development. I see the non-classroom experience as a continuation of maturing. Your conduct and responsibility is expected to be at a much higher level and you are exposed to people from far outside your region with whom you are expected to get on with. The only thing the uni can do is hold students to a code of conduct and, perhaps, have a class on interpersonal relationships as part of the curriculum.

      If I go back to take more courses, I'm not going to want to be required to take "sensitivity" classes that are outside my area of interest so having them as requirements is useless. I'd likely be much older than the instructors and seen much more real life than they have. This is especially the case if they've gone from their degree studies right into a teaching post. Mandating these courses to be taken along side the course track the student wants to take is a waste of time and money if implemented. It also doesn't benefit students that aren't on campus for much more than attending their classes or returning students only taking limited numbers of classes for professional development.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Students aren’t idiots

    They manage their risk and do what’s best for them like the rest of us.

    My neighbours son started doing IT at uni, but quickly switched to business, and is now starting a Masters. Smart boy. He will do well.

    Here in outer London, high schools offer drama, music, art and graphic design, and a large number of kids spend their Saturday mornings learning drama / dance / singing with one of the many ‘stage coach’ schools across the country. They are oversubscribed - the classes are packed and the teachers are fun and professional.

    STEM?

    I suppose you can do badges in scouts or woodcraftfolk

    There is maybe 2 maker spaces in the whole of London but they don’t really serve kids.

    Coding clubs? I saw a photocopied sign in the bakery window once. Didn’t fill me with confidence, and the sales pitch didn’t seem attractive to my son. Never saw the sign again.

    High school computing class only seems to discourage students. They certainly never did fun stuff with BBC microbit or raspberry pi. Internet safety seemed to be the teachers favourite topic. Hardly inspiring. And it wasn’t.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Students aren’t idiots

      My child is just starting secondary. Their school* has an arts lab with a 3d printer. That's how to get kids interested in something, give them the tools to play with.

      *not the UK

    2. Cliffwilliams44 Silver badge

      Re: Students aren’t idiots

      As I said in another post, my grandson almost got discouraged out of IT in high school. When we went down to visit Florida Polytech to see if he'd like to go there. They showed us all the really cool and fun stuff they do there, all the technology and engineering groups they have there that do all kinds of things (They even have a battle bots team) He was reinvigorated to get started in technology.

      Its just too bad high schools can do these things now. I blame the teachers unions!

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Students aren’t idiots

      "There is maybe 2 maker spaces in the whole of London but they don’t really serve kids"

      The insurance to allow under 18's is prohibitive in many cases. I was mentoring a middle school club for a national rocket competition and found out the school had to discontinue chemistry lab classes due to parents being freaked out over their kids using "chemicals". This left the science teachers trying to find ways to get the kids hands on with something. The group didn't qualify for the finals, but the teachers and parents all commented that it made a huge difference for the kids in the program when we met for a roundtable at the end of the year's program. I don't think anybody dropped out (or only a couple).

  5. Dom 3

    "Who wants to use an e-commerce system made by someone who doesn't want to code?" I don't even want to use the ones coded by people who *do* want to code...

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
      Facepalm

      I asked a classics undergraduate what they were planning to do after they left university.

      "Going into accountancy" they replied.

      I asked why they were doing classics instead of something possibly closer linked to their career choice. (maths, finance, business studies, management, etc)

      "Oh the accountancy firms don't care what qualifications you've got"

  6. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

    > And I really wouldn’t want to drive across a bridge designed by someone who’d never really wanted to be an engineer.

    Avoid Australia in future, then. Our current Curriculum designers have formally stated that maths is racist, and that emphasising the idea of a correct answer to a maths problem is white supremacy. Their current curriculum seeks to correct and eliminate these problems.

    Not a joke or sarcasm, by the way.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      >...designed by someone who’d never really wanted to be an engineer.

      The question is just what determines whether someone really wants to be an engineer.

      I suggest the political and education focus on STEM label those who want to do pure engineering subjects from the outset as 'engineers'. Leaving little room for the development of a polymath mind - capable of designing artistically beautiful bridges, buildings, computers, smartphones etc. that are fully grounded in solid engineering principles.

      Having a teenager who has decided to study history, there is much she will learn about the modern world, however the skills she will develop at Uni. are transferrable and so there is no reason why after graduating she shouldn't take up a STEM career; provided the training is available to allow skills transfer.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        "Having a teenager who has decided to study history, there is much she will learn about the modern world, however the skills she will develop at Uni. are transferrable and so there is no reason why after graduating she shouldn't take up a STEM career; provided the training is available to allow skills transfer."

        I see no problem in also learning history. I enjoy the subject a lot myself. To shell out a substantial amount of money to major in the subject could be a huge mistake without a career in mind that will pay enough to justify the cost of the education. If the student comes from a family of means, sure, why not. Many scholars noted in their fields have come from wealth and didn't need to consider the financial returns or go into substantial debt to gain their knowledge and qualifications. I am very much opposed to government guaranteed student loans used to gain degrees in subjects that don't have a high enough market value.

        I will agree that knowing history can have a high value when coupled with another subject. One of my favorite books is on the development of the atomic bomb by Richard Rhodes. The book is a very in depth look at nuclear science and the people involved. I also enjoy other books about science and engineering history.

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "Avoid Australia in future, then. Our current Curriculum designers have formally stated that maths is racist, and that emphasising the idea of a correct answer to a maths problem is white supremacy. Their current curriculum seeks to correct and eliminate these problems."

      They caught that disease from the US. Memes as contagions.

    3. trindflo Bronze badge
      Stop

      Or the west coast of the US

      I suppose I needed to know that.

      https://www.newsweek.com/math-suffers-white-supremacy-according-bill-gates-funded-course-1571511

      ' The lesson asked employees to be "less white," '

      You want to discourage the primates from hurling their feces at each other. Telling them one target is OK will not end well.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    THINK

    IBM, in the olden days, slapped THINK on a bunch of corporate tchotchkes and it is at the core of this argument.

    Technology can facilitate critical thinking or it can facilitate rote learning.

    Learning coding, for example, is, at heart, learning a foreign language. Cramming a list of words and grammar rules into students' heads, via books or technology, doesn't teach critical thinking, it teaches memorization. Ideally, whether it's a programming language or a foreign language, the goal should be to let students explore and fail and think and self correct. A good teacher with a good lesson plan can do this (which is why many schools are adding "Conversational" to their language course titles). So can good software such as those that let the students interactively add bits of code and see what happens.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: THINK

      So can good software such as those that let the students interactively add bits of code and see what happens

      Making mistakes in the classroom is a fantastic way to learn. You gain a better understanding of the subject by unpicking your mistake

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: THINK

      "So can good software such as those that let the students interactively add bits of code and see what happens."

      My friend's dad (an EE) had a Commodore PET when they came out (yes, I'm old). We had all sorts of fun finding books with games written in Basic that we would type in and be able to play. They were very simple games so the possibilities were all explored in very short order. We took the programs apart and added or deleted things to make a new game or at least bend the rules until we exceeded what the computer could do. Sometimes we didn't have money for the cassette tapes to store out "new" programs. I may have gone further if I had my own computer or if we had unfettered access to the Commodore. Sometimes we were tasked with typing in programs for his dad to do engineering calculations from notes he wrote out so computer time wasn't always ours to do what we liked. The sorts of things he was doing was far beyond us so it didn't mean a whole bunch to us at the time. If it was part of an electronics course in school, it may have been more interesting. There are loads of tools online for electronics, but it's still not a bad exercise to code an Ohm's law calculator. In one job before the internet, I would write small programs to calculate antenna element lengths for a particular antenna model at the company where I worked. It allowed us to stock the model with the lowest frequency (longest stock elements) and modify them per order. The antenna manufacturer sent an engineer to the company to work with us after we talked to them about it. I traded code with that engineer to get more insight into many of their designs. It was great for the company I worked for as they could supply a custom antenna on short order from stock and they didn't have to stock as many different part numbers which saved on inventory costs and warehouse space. These were big antennas for commercial and government use. Having a little program to do the calculations cut down on mistakes and sped up the process.

  8. Roland6 Silver badge

    People do that (widen the divide)

    The argument presented is a good illustration of this point.

    The author approvingly argues "with children largely returning to classrooms, this [access to tech] should all be less of an issue in the future – the next pandemic notwithstanding." extolling the virtue of classroom learning: "Catching up on what they’ve missed is undoubtedly an ongoing challenge." then falls head-over-heels "But addressing the social and development issues caused by prolonged isolation and inactivity is arguably far more important."

    If, the addressing of social and development issues caused by prolonged isolation etc. really are that important then a return to the classroom only addresses the needs of those who can return to the classroom. Even before CoViD there was a sizable number of children who could not regularly attend in-person. Lockdown and the need for teachers to teach the whole class via Teams/Zoom levelled things up and those previously excluded from normal classrooms had a much improved status (in the class) and social life albeit online.

    So by promoting a particular strategy, the author is actually creating a situation that will serve to widen the divide.

    1. Cliffwilliams44 Silver badge

      Re: People do that (widen the divide)

      "Even before CoViD there was a sizable number of children who could not regularly attend in-person."

      Really, and why is that? Exactly what is preventing them from attending class! The only reason would be that their Parent of Guardian is not REQUIRING them to do so!

      This strikes me like the whole "Children are starving in America" BS! Between welfare, food stamps and now in schools meals, there is no reason any child should go hungry, it is solely the responsibility of the care taker if these children are not being fed.

  9. Dark Eagle

    Do not copy India.

    Because if you did, then you'll end up with companies selling you dreams like "Enroll your 5 or 6 years old child at our bootcamp, and they'll create next google, or foreign businesses will fight over their apps!"

    Personally, I did wanted to end up in a tech company, because I like what kind of possibilities programming offered me. But after observing how companies treat their programmers, as well as intellectual bullying, (You don't know this obscure method? How are you working here?) I decided that it is best to do programming in my free time. After all, its not like the compilers and interpreters are going to disappear from my computer.

    And do writing, lots and lots of writing, even if it is not good.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Do not copy India.

      One thing I see with India is they grind out programmers that are as generic as a really generic thing. If you have no background in the thing you are writing a program for, there is no way to check your work. You also have to be handed very specific details on what the program is expected to do. Like that ever happens and when it does, it's often horrible.

      If you are writing a program to be used in a science application, there is likely a standard way that the data is presented. If the programmer doesn't know about this, they might wind up with a UI that is useless. They may also think that changing units won't matter. Yes, .816MeV is the same as 816KeV, but somebody using the program might be expecting to see everything presented in MeV or vice versa. I think this is why many scientists write their own programs.

      A friend's father built a company to keep records for school sports and players. It was all done on forms they would buy from the company. When my friend took over and moved everything to computers and then added internet functionality, he kept the same metaphors so the existing customers could easily make the transition. Eventually he eased them away from how the paper forms would be used, but did that over many years. I expect that plenty of the coaches would have retired and had newer, younger ones taking their place so the need to carry on with the old way faded out. The reason the company did well and eventually sold for a tidy sum is that there was a deep knowledge of how the software was being used and what made sense to a sports coach and school admins.

      1. Dark Eagle

        Re: Do not copy India.

        You've presented some very excellant points.

        I would like to add that people just see software development as just a way of making a lot of money quickly here. They don't care for the customers, the quality of the product, or even the code. (Unreadable code, not closing streams once you're done using them in java *Shutter* Must forget the language...)

        Or if you learned enough, then you can ask eye-gouging prices for teaching people what they can get for free from internet tutorials, or from free code camp.

  10. dylanmanningke10

    Oh, yeah! Writing good codes isn't easy at all. I thought that in the computing science course I will learn more new things especially since now everything is developing very fast. But instead, I should write essays about the history of it and not only. The writing was never my strong point and I don't think it is a surprise, this is why I have started to use some editing services to help me to get my work done faster. I use the most the editing service that I have found after reading the reviews of Proof-Reading.

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