By Dr. Guy Bunker
OK, so I’m old... I got my first computer while at 6th Form College – it was an Acorn Atom. For those who don’t remember it, this was the pre-cursor to the BBC Micro. The 6th Form I was at had a couple of other computers, an Apple II (long before the Mac) and something else I can’t remember... There were a few of us who used to program ‘for fun’ and it really got me into computers and technology in general- an early interest, fostered at school, which ended up driving my career.
So, what did we write back then...? Well, it was games. There were monthly magazines with games listings in, and you spent hours typing them in, before needing to find and fix the inevitable printing errors before it would run – but run they did and in doing so the process provided the inspiration to write your own.
Today ICT is all about how to ‘use’ computers rather than programming them... so the new initiative to introduce coding into the curriculum of primary schools feels like a very useful ‘back to the roots’ extension of both learning and understanding. There are lots of different challenges though. Games today are created by teams of people, graphic designers, sound artists, interaction specialists and coders. If you were to print out the code to “Call of Duty” and then start typing it in, several small forests would be required – and you might be done by the time you retired. Hardly inspirational! There are tools to make the programming more fun, such as making ‘the application’ look pretty or making robots drive around the room, but they use high level languages that don’t really reflect the grass roots understanding required for the next generation of programmers we need. There are other tools out there to help people create websites and simple apps for mobile devices, but again they miss the point of the grass roots understanding. Don’t get me wrong - we need web designers etc., but we also need ‘low level’ programmers – those people that create the applications that people use to create websites and apps.
This new initiative is a great step in the right direction, children need to be encouraged to take part and be congratulated on even the simplest of achievements – it might not be “Grand Theft Auto”, but it will be something unique and creative, something that can be built on. We start ‘art’ and ‘music’ at an early age – so why not programming? As with the introduction of the smart phone and tablet computing, the challenge may not be for the children to understand, but rather the teachers – who need to be one step ahead!
I still enjoy ‘messing’ around with computers and programming, so it’s great news that they are introducing coding into primary schools. By inspiring the younger generation to do something interesting and drive a feeling of innovation – which might also help shape their career in the future- we provide a whole new set of aspirations to the Winnie-the-Pooh book, “Now we are six.”