Teach our Kids to Code

I tweeted a Guardian article the other week, in which John Naughton looked at the Raspberry Pi and it’s potential, along with several other projects, to fix the broken way in which kids are taught about technology in schools.

A key driver of this new tech resistance movement is a desire to rescue kids from the fate that the Department of Education has in mind for them, namely as passive consumers of information appliances and services created by giant foreign corporations. Where governments dream up projects like the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL), the resistance seeks to grant kids a “Licence to Tinker” – to demystify the technology by providing tools and ideas that enable them to understand how modern networked devices work.

Although seemingly not his own words, John uses the interesting phrase “Licence to Tinker” to describe the laudable idea that children should be taught how to understand technology, rather than merely using it.

The catchphrase is slick, but to me it worryingly implies that you need a licence in order to open these things up, and comparisons with the dreaded ECDL seems hardly likely to inspire confidence in this small revolution.

Fortunately, Emma Mulqueeny, in her blog post on the same topic, comes up with the fabulous rallying call “Teach our kids to code”, also the name of her e-petition, which you really should sign if you’ve not already.

As she notes, there’s a collective responsibility on us all to keep pushing this message. Eric Schmidt may worry about the future of the UK’s tech competitiveness, but “teach our kids to code” shows us the simplicity of the solution to these apparent problems.

Most people would recognise the importance of teaching children how to think critically about a piece of literature, and even writing their own pieces, as well as merely reading it. Yet we don’t do the same with software, which like mainstream literature and journalism tends to be written by a small-ish set of people (at least compared with the overall population) with a certain set of principles, and often an economic interest in doing things a certain way.

We should teach kids to code because it’s essential that they have the skills to examine and question the digital world we now live in, and when they really don’t agree that they can do their own thing.

If you agree with this sentiment, then please sign the petition.