Freddy May: Teaching the crowd
Codio CEO Freddy May asks the question ‘Is teaching children web development the key to the future of the web?’
As web developers, we understand better than most the vital role that computers play in our every day lives. Whether checking our bank statements, updating our Facebook status or texting our friends, computers underpin everything we do. Yet most people know very little about how computers actually work, and the next generation risks knowing even less. This is a significant issue for the UK economy that needs to be addressed fast.
The art of coding and software development is almost completely neglected at school level and woefully under-represented at universities. Even in the US, the global leader in tech, less than 2 per cent of college students graduate with a degree in computer science – fewer than ten years ago. The situation in the UK is likely even worse. This is a ticking time bomb for the country’s long-term position as a leading knowledge economy. We need to train the next generation of developers – without coding being taught earlier, how can we find the next Google or Facebook? What are the options?
Education at all levels is key. Children need to be exposed to coding – not just computers – in the same way they are exposed to maths and English. Computer science must be given its rightful place as the fourth science in schools. While the government hasn’t always got it right, it must be credited with taking the bold step of suspending the existing ICT curriculum for 11 to 16-year-olds in September last year after it determined that the course was not “fit for purpose”. The government acknowledged that it wasn’t best placed to create the new curriculum, so it turned to the IT industry itself to architect a replacement that was fit for purpose and put more emphasis on how computers actually work (ie by teaching coding) over how to use the latest version of Microsoft Word.
Recognising the issue and suspending the outdated curriculum was an important first step. However, in light of the well-publicised skills gap among teachers qualified enough to teach coding, more needs to be done. Teachers cannot teach the next generation of coders if they do not know how to code themselves. Teachers need support. At the same time, we at Codio are concerned that a new curriculum runs the risk of befalling the same fate as its predecessor of becoming out of date and irrelevant over time.
We believe that the world’s developers, working together, can do a great job of providing the learning materials needed to train the next generation of developers. The web community is an incredibly resourceful, innovative and adaptable resource that should be given the opportunity to play a role in solving the skills issue. It has already achieved some great things with the likes of the Raspberry Pi (www.raspberrypi.org) project and Code.org (www.code.org) making a real difference in recent years. Online tutorials already exist for almost every coding problem out there, all we need to do is to collate this content into a resource suitable for education. Through the collaboration and iteration of this content we believe that the community can provide teachers with a post-curriculum resource that is always relevant and 100 per cent free.
We might be wrong, but we believe this ‘crowd-teaching’, collaborative approach is a better solution to the problem than one designed by a committee. It will be more adaptive to change so will keep pace with developments in IT more easily, with the bulk of the resources coming from the skilled community itself. By encouraging students to solve problems by working together (imagine students from schools all across the country sharing their solutions), it will put less of a burden on the teachers who now suddenly have to learn to code themselves.
Codio (www.codio.com) has a small role to play by providing the web-based collaborative IDE on which the community can share its resources, build embedded tutorials and learn to code (free for all public and educational projects), but we need skilled developers to support the idea and be willing to share their knowledge. Can collaboration among the community play a role in solving the IT skills crisis? Lend us your support at codio.com/s/education.