Saturday 14 January 2012

How to replace the School ICT Curriculum

I haven't coded for a long time. A long time.

Although I made a living in the early 80's writing management information systems in AppleSoft BASIC, and after my software engineering degree I worked for a while as rather mediocre Ada programmer on military information systems, I was never one of the worlds most accomplished computer programmers.

I was however fortunate enough to be born at the right time to receive a proper education in computer studies. Although my rather BASIC understanding of how to construct loops, branches and subroutines and how to manipulate strings and define multi dimensional arrays seems somewhat detached from my current daily working activities, it nonetheless provides me with a much greater insight and appreciation of the inner workings of the more complex applications I now use.

In much the same way as my admiration of English and literature in later life, has subsequently made me aware of my loss in not receiving a classical education, perhaps future IT consultants will, on realisation, mourn their loss at never having had the opportunity to load the accumulator or pop the stack when dabbling in ancient assembly languages.

The recent government announcements to scrap the current IT curriculums that merely instruct our children on how to use computers to become efficient office lackeys, in favour of a return to more creative and development based IT education is therefore most welcome on my part.

However, there is another method from the early 80's that we could also redeploy to achieve these laudable aims in adolescent IT literacy. By reinstalling ZX Spectrums, Acorn Electron's, Oric 1's and even the occasional Dragon 32 in WH Smiths, the youth will once again be unwittingly self-instructed in the art of writing short, memory efficient programs that display amusing profanities and the sexual preferences of their friends on the TV monitors before the store manager realises what they've done, or have indeed calculated how to terminate their witty little programs.


Nick Evans said...

Those were the days! We had a ZX81 with the wobbly RAM pack and then a BBC Model B.

Crispian Jago said...

A BBC Model B? How decadent, my ZX81 was superseded with a CBM64.

Billysugger said...

I don't know how many students a new Computer Science curriculum will suit, but I too look back with more than nostalgia. Sure there are plenty of software engineers around today, but in software development these days the UK is comprehensively kicked in the nuts by Johnny Foreigner.

Much of the software engineering evident in the market today is applications based for PCs, MACs or phones. And that's all very entertaining.

But another sector where "the art of writing short, memory efficient programs" is supremely valuable is embedded engineering: making electronic devices DO THINGS like turn motors, stop car brakes locking up, measure blood-pressure, expose perfect digital photos, take credit card payments at your restaurant table, manufacture almost everything you buy... the list is endless.

Embedded software enables almost everything in the modern world and I make a good living from it. And one big beefy reason for that is that I grew up learning to program assembly code in hexadecimal, assembled with a pencil, and I can achieve a project requirement more simply, with fewer and cheaper components, more reliably and with a faster response, than the kids who grew up with PlayStations and write bloat-ware on ARM Cotrex and Intel Pentium processors.

If we can inspire kids to use software to control the real world, they will be able to compete for making things in the future.

Anonymous said...

No need to dig out the old school tech, a few Raspberry Pi's will do the same using modern hardware and a modern OS while supporting British innovation.

Neuroskeptic said...

I still remember the laughs we had at school, programming the old BBC Micro 16K in the corner of the classroom to start beeping and printing "BUM" halfway through the class.

Ah...memories... but that kind of thing teaches you more about coding than any textbook.


latsot said...

I welcome a more computer sciency IT curriculum, but I think it starts earlier than that. We were a generation of kids that took stuff to bits to see how it worked. You can't really do that these days.

At least Lego is more popular than ever, but I'm cynical enough to think this is due to Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean. Are kids still building computers out of Lego or are they just building Hogwarts?