Current curriculum not good enough for children's futures in tech
Code Club, a nationwide, after-school coding club for children aged 10-11, is looking for funding, in order to protect the UK's tech future. Co-founder Clare Sutcliffe told .net it's important to inspire children to learn to code, but the current Information Communication Technology (ICT) curriculum is in a poor, unexciting state, causing children to drop the subject in droves. "It's mostly about learning to use software, skills often rendered worthless, because software changes so much over time," she said. "We teach physics because our world is ruled by the laws of physics, and so with us living in a digital age, we should also be teaching our children how to create software – not just how to use it."
To date, Code Club has had over 1,300 volunteers sign up to teach, from across the UK, and over 100 primary schools looking for a programmer to come and set up a Code Club. "And that's before we've even started talking to schools or other other educational organisations," added Sutcliffe. Coder and consultant Seb Lee-Delisle thinks such enthusiasm is great news, because Code Club could rapidly become essential: "Although it's great [Secretary of State for Education] Michael Gove has decided to change the existing ICT curriculum (BBC News), teachers have been left confused regarding what it will contain. Code Club is therefore the best way to support teachers and get passionate industry leaders to come and get kids excited about the possibilities that programming opens up. More importantly, it's a super fast way to get great programming guidance into schools, without having to wait for the authorities to make up their minds as to what this new curriculum will contain."
A dark age for coding
According to Lee-Delisle, without the likes of Code Club, children could remain mired in what he calls a "dark age for coding in education". In his childhood, he lived through a "time of real excitement", with home computers like the ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro, designed to be programmed. "But fast-forward two decades. Everyone has a computer, and yet only a tiny percentage can program them! You're stuck using other people's software and restricted to what their apps can do. If you want true power and creativity you should learn to make your own tools!"
Lee-Delisle added that there are other benefits to children learning coding: "It's important to start breaking down tasks into steps and start thinking logically from as early as you can. I started to code when I was 11 and I'm sure that learning to think in that way from a young age has helped me as an adult."
In order to not baffle and bewilder potential future software geniuses, Code Club will base its sessions around MIT's Scratch, which enables code elements to be dragged and dropped rather than typed. "It's an accessible route for anyone who wants to learn to code," said Lee-Delisle. "It takes the 'syntax issue' out of learning to code and places more emphasis on creativity, by encouraging learning through design-based tasks," added Sutcliffe.
The final hurdles for Code Club include completing the curriculum, gathering feedback from pilot schools, and then beginning in earnest for the 2012 autumn term. In the meantime, 'hack days' are being organised to raise awareness of Code Club within the development community, and the organisation is hoping to raise £5,000 within the next week, to register as a charity. Update: CodeClub has announced it now has the funds to register as a charity, but is still looking for donations to help the scheme succeed.