Are we ready for the coding revolution? by Tim

In the modern age in which we live, we are confronted more and more regularly with the fact that knowledge of technology is essential to progress in life. Virtually everyone has a mobile phone, a tablet computer or a laptop: being able to use these is crucial to the social, educational and economic sides of life, in the eyes of most people. But the question is, how should young people be taught to use these devices?

            There is currently a quiet tussle going on in the government’s Department of Education over the issue of how best to teach ICT. At the moment, in Bryn Celynnog, we learn such things as use of e-mail, creation of PowerPoint presentations and design of Excel spreadsheets; the Education Secretary Michael Gove wishes to change this so that we instead learn how to code the computers into operating a certain way, rather than using computer programs that someone else at Microsoft has pre-coded.

            The main idea behind this scheme is that it coding will be hugely useful to us in our future employment (with some even going to the extent of suggesting that it should be awarded a similar stature in education to core subjects like Maths and English); indeed, according to one survey, a massive 100% of teenagers think that knowledge of coding would be vital for their future job prospects. While a figure of 100% is frankly very suspect, it is true that many jobs, such as those of the huge and still expanding telecommunications industry, would be made easier with even a rudimentary knowledge of code. But are the government rolling out their new scheme right?

            Recent reports would answer with a resounding “NO!”. There was controversy this week at the revelation that the director of the campaign, Lottie Dexter, was in fact unable to code, whilst the leader of the movement Young Rewired State, Emma Mulqueeny, who has been striving for years to get this sort of legislation passed, had not been told about the project until a week before its launch. Mulqueeny claims that “the amount of damage she [Dexter] has done to the cause of programming is frightening”, while also opining that the campaign “doesn’t know what it’s doing, it’s not focused, it hasn’t looked at all the research that people have done”.

            However, the supporters of the initiative were adamant of its validity and usefulness. Saul Klein, who is the entrepreneur who is one of the main backer of this scheme from his position as partner at Index Ventures (who are directing and financing the scheme) says that although the “Year of the Code” has hit “broken glass” and “speed bumps” it is still crucial for young people’s futures, also claiming that the UK government’s policy on coding was ground-breaking and widely envied.

            Despite the conviction that these two hold of their respective opinions, I believe that it is in fact the thoughts of the students themselves which bear the greatest impact on the issue; to this end, I sought out some fellow students to interview.

            The first of my peers thought that being taught coding would be “brilliant” and “exciting” and that they would “fully back the idea”.

            “I would love to code,” he said, “it’s important in every industry: marketing, business, game developing making websites…basically, it covers all the bases.”

            On the other hand (and in spite of the supposed 100% support of the scheme amongst teenagers) my second interviewee was equally convinced of his opinion: that coding “is and always will be pointless”.

            “I think that programming is useless in most jobs,” he told me. “For example, if I become an English teacher, knowledge of coding would be irrelevant, whilst the skill of making an effective PowerPoint presentation, one of the skills that Michael Gove wants to chuck overboard, would be infinitely more useful.

“Indeed, even the type of ICT that we’re learning at the moment, which warrants four weeks to make a simple PowerPoint, is to my mind more desirable than learning about this coding.”

            Obviously, the issue of how to learn about technology is a contentious one amongst students and policy-makers alike. But, at the end of the day, there is nothing we can do but to watch, eagle-eyed, the progress of this new scheme, as young people abandon the paddling pool of pre-made programmes and dive, for better or for worse, into the ocean of coding.

            Do you have an opinion on this issue which you would like to express? If so, contact us on Twitter with @BBCBryn, or talk to one of your BBC School Reporters today. We would really appreciate your views.

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