In a move unheard of since the personal computing revolution of the 1980s, the government has thrown its lot in with technological progress and mandated that the national curriculum must now include lessons on coding. For the technology industry, this holds the promise of a whole new generation of staff – while also offering the opportunity to learn new skills for those already in employment.
The Government’s Pledge
Earlier this year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Education Secretary jointly announced that the government would provide £500,000 to train teachers in a new discipline: coding, a hip rebranding of the traditional term programming. Turning 2014 into the ‘Year of Code’ with input from the Royal Society of Engineering and industry giants including Google and Microsoft, the money went to train teachers into developing the skills required to teach children from primary school age upwards how to program computers and embedded systems. “In the 21st century, the ability to code and program a computer is no longer a nice-to-have,” George Osborne declared, “it’s an essential.”
The move has had enthusiastic support from within the industry, with many projects springing up to support children’s’ education both in and out of school. The most well-known of these is CodeClub, a national volunteer network aiming to teach programming skills to children aged 9-11, and Code.org, which asks students and teachers to spend just one hour trying coding for themselves. The BBC, which in the 1980s was heavily involved in the personal computer revolution, has recently launched a series of television programmes and supporting resources for budding coders under its Bitesize banner, even going so far as to launch a coding-themed game using its highly popular DoctorWho character.
While the primary focus of the government’s activities is on encouraging more children to consider coding as a career choice, following a dramatic decline since the home computing boom of the 1980s, the renewed interest in the topic has shone a light on resources more suitable to the mature learner as well. Codecademy offers interactive lessons in a variety of languages which take place entirely within the user’s browser, requiring no previous experience or technical knowledge. Rival sites like CodeAvengers and CodeSchool go further, but require a one-off or monthly fee. Large institutions are also getting into the act, with universities from Harvard and MIT to Delft joining the degree-level edX initiative.
A Path to the Future
While there has been criticism of the government’s rallying cry of absolutely everyone needing to learn how to code, there’s little doubt that such an initiative will mean good news for the future of the UK’s technology industry. Many of the biggest names in the industry today got their start programming in their bedrooms as part of the micro-computing revolution of the 1980s, but entrants to the workforce today lack that early experience. By encouraging more children to consider programming as a worthwhile endeavour, the current dearth of qualified workers can be reversed – providing, that is, the government continues to support teachers, financially and otherwise, in delivering the new curriculum.
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