The future of Britain’s programmers will start at Primary School Level
Britain is suffering a lack of IT talent, it seems, and the Government is very worried about it. Worried enough to have teamed up with the BBC and various other bodies to try and tackle it at source: at primary school level. Start kids off thinking that programming is cool - and easy - and you’ll create a pool of talent that just needs updating. That was the thinking behind Jessica Cecil’s presentation to the 360d conference I attended in Glasgow recently.
Of course, this isn’t the first time the BBC has been involved with teaching children about computers. Remember the BBC Micro? And, of course, using familiar faces to get the message across makes it feel safe, relevant - and yes, cool - rather than a scary new world.
The BBC’s Make It Digital programme is designed to help kids “have a go at digital literacy”. Starting as they mean to go on, CBBC are aiming their Nina and the Neurons programmes at the under-7s. On the BBC’s website there are interactive games under the Nina banner; the Neurons games show how many things use computers, and start teaching pre-coding skills like using a mouse and identifying on-screen objects and pathways.
7-14 year olds are encouraged by programmes such as Technobabble, a digital maker kit, and Gamestar Mechanic, to design and build their own games. My 8-year-old daughter built a game on Gamestar Mechanic; we monitored it after its launch and it was being played in countries all over the world, which did wonders for her self-esteem and made her think that technology and maths weren’t such difficult subjects after all when deployed using fun.
P7 and S1 students are being given Microbits - pocket-sized computers that offer the chance to take your first steps in coding. They lead children on to the credit-card-sized Raspberry Pi which plugs into a computer monitor or TV, uses a standard keyboard and mouse, and takes you the next step on the programming path.
This is digital evolution. It’s a natural progression from the digital revolution, which has been described as the third industrial revolution. Digital evolution means computing technology has become so mainstream that, like steam power 200 years ago or the internal combustion engine 100 years ago, it is accepted as part of everyday life by everyone under the age of 24 (Ed: did you know the BBC regard you as old if you're over 24). It’s the world our children will inhabit, and they need to understand it if they are to get anywhere, no matter what sort of job they end up doing.
I’ll end with a quote from Jessica Cecil: “To be a pioneer is a wonderful thing. All you need do is bring your own imagination and creativity”.
For kids, who use their imagination and creativity in play every day, that’s easy. It’s our job to make sure they don’t lose it as they get older.