The UK’s coalition government marked 2014 as the Year of Code, launching numerous initiatives to turn the nation’s children into the technology pioneers of tomorrow. With a general election behind us and a new majority Conservative government, have those plans changed?
Conservatives Pledge Science and Technology Reforms
The Conservative Party has pledged to continue its shake-up of the UK’s education sector. In its 2015 manifesto, the new majority government promised to “help teachers to make Britain the best country in the world for developing maths, engineering, science and computing.” But the focus appears to have shifted somewhat. In 2014, the coalition launched the Year of Code, in which numerous initiatives to convince children to take up programming as a career were launched, along with £500,000 in teacher-training funding. Post-election, the Conservatives have indicated that they will budget to train an additional 17,500 maths and physics teachers over the next five years, but have thus far remained silent on plans to extend training for coding and computing in a similar fashion. Coupled with divisive initiatives such as the Draft Communications Data Bill, which provides governmental security services access to communications data without a court order, there are concerns that the gains made in 2014 could be lost over the coming years.
Micro Bit Makes Hardware Soft
Although the government’s passion for coding appears to be at risk of going off the boil, others have shown a continued commitment. The BBC, which last year launched a series of television programmes and supporting resources encouraging children to learn how to code, has recently announced plans to launch a programmable device codenamed the Micro Bit. A microcontroller-based learning platform, the Micro Bit is designed to provide instant gratification for budding programmers through LEDs and buttons, and is to be provided free of charge to every Year 7 pupil throughout the country, as well as being sold to other interested parties.
In the meantime, the Year of Code’s conclusion has done little to staunch the flow of criticism from those who refute the notion that coding (denounced as no more than a hip, kid-friendly rebrand of the traditional term ‘programming’) is a skill that everyone should learn. Proponents of just such an objective, however, argue that while many jobs do not obviously benefit from the ability to code, the skills learned – which centre around clear communication and logical problem-solving – are directly transferable to any career in a way that some other school subjects are not. With no sign that initiatives such as Codecademy, CodeClub and Code.org are going away, it seems that the pro-coding parties will have their success – providing, of course, the newly-elected government continues what it started in partnership with the Liberal Democrats.