Via twitter, I was pointed to this report on the RTE website this morning.
The takeaway message is:
A new survey has found a third of parents think computer coding is a more important skill to learn than Irish.
I’m getting wary of seeing pieces talking about computer coding rather than computer programming. Ultimately, there is a lot more to writing computer code than just knowing the syntax and I tend to consider coding to be the syntax part of things, and programming to be the wider scale of things.
But even if we leave that little quibble aside, I have problems with the whole idea of either/or when it comes to asking people what should be taught in school. I’m fully in favour of teaching children to program. There are a lot of tools to do this: MIT Scratch is one of the highest profile ones but depending on what age children you are talking about, Python and Java are also options, particularly the former in the context of Raspberry Pis.
Realistically, we need to step back and look at core skills. When you are talking about primary school level, which we are here:
The findings are likely to bolster the arguments of those who say coding should be offered as part of the primary school curriculum, as it has been in Britain since the start of this school year.
the point remains that we are also dealing with literacy and numeracy issues at this stage too. I have written before on the UK’s policy – and I’d also add that while the authorities there made a lot of noise about this curriculum policy, they did not follow it up with so much support for continuing professional development for teachers who were expected to go from teaching computer use to computer programming in a school year. Ultimately, when you start thinking about getting children to write computer programs, you need to also start thinking about the tools they will have available and what you expect them to achieve.
I am willing to bet that this survey did not actually talk about what the parents in question expected children to be able to do writing computer code at the age of 8 or 10.
One of the items which RTE reported on was this:
Of the 1,000 adults questioned, two-thirds said learning coding is equally important as maths, science and languages.
Leaving aside the fact that whoever wrote this needs to re-read things occasionally, the point is, writing computer programs depends on abilities in maths, science and language. In short, you cannot learn to write computer code without already having core skills in mathematics and communication. Logically, when it is dependent on a skill set, it cannot be as important as that skill set itself.
This is why this part makes me incandescent with rage:
One-third even think it’s more valuable than Irish, with one-fifth believing it is a more important skill than maths.
Every single computer science undergraduate course in the country will have a mathematics component. If you want them to get any value out of the growing sector, which is data analytics, mathematics is absolutely MANDATORY. There is no point in assuming that you know what you’re talking about in terms of education policy if you can agree with the statement “writing computer code is more important than mathematics” given that actually, it’s the other way around.
Put in that context, the one third who think computer coding is more important than Irish did not give the most annoying response to this survey.
In any case, there is also this:
And three quarters of people said they would avail of such classes if they were available in their area.
The thing is, they pretty much are. There are over 100 Coderdojo groups spread out across the island of Ireland, near to 150 actually. They are not all in Dublin.
So the question is, are they availing of the Coder Dojo groups – I hesitate to call them classes as that sort of takes the fun out of things – or is this a throwaway “yeah, they don’t teach it in the school but at least if there were a Coder Dojo around, we’d probably do this…” I would have driven 30km to one when I was a child.
I have asked UPC via their PR and general twitter lines whether I can get a copy of the questions on this survey. I really would like to know what they looked like. Also a copy of the report would be useful.