Last week I got into conversation with Sue Black and others about kids and programming, which prompted me to expand on my observations here…

My experience has been that with a combination of enthusiasm and encouragement from me, and opportunity (in the shape of the excellent kid-friendly Scratch from MIT) my six year old son has got to grips with some of the basics of programming and has had loads of fun making my laptop do crazy things.

Unfortunately, when I’ve visited his school and seen the way ‘ICT’ (how I hate that term) is approached, I haven’t come away feeling that there is either the enthusiasm or the opportunity for kids to get their hands dirty on some code. I watched a class of bored children clicking on stuff with no real direction, supervised by an equally bored teaching assistant whose main role was as guardian of the usernames and password printout. By the end of the lesson there were still children who hadn’t actually logged on.

I should say at this point I’m not singling out the school or the teachers for criticism. Somehow, as a nation, we have allowed computing in schools to morph into something to be held at arms length, relegated to the ‘ICT suite’, where our kids are taught to click on the right buttons to churn out Powerpoint presentations. For a country about to celebrate the centenary  of the birth of the ‘father of computing‘, this is a sad state of affairs.

So what? Why should we care?

We should care because we have a choice about how we deal with technology… Douglas Rushkoff makes the case very eloquently in his book ‘Program or be Programmed‘, but it boils down to…

“Do we direct technology, or do we let ourselves be directed by it and those who have mastered it?”

We should care about how computing is approached in our schools because if we don’t do something, many of our children will not be equipped to make that choice.

As I see it, at the moment, we are teaching our kids to ‘be directed’… to blindly press the right buttons. I want to see our kids being given the opportunity to create the buttons themselves. Of course, not everyone will want to become a button maker, but we must give them the choice.

And the solution is….?

I don’t how we are going to make this happen, but I suspect that whatever the solution is it we will need to address at least these two questions…

  • How do we dramatically increase the level of enthusiasm for coding that kids see around them?
  • How do we create more opportunities for kids to play with programming?

In the communities I am part of I see lots of enthusiasm and lots of opportunity, maybe the solution lies in working out how to bring that to our children and our schools.

I’m hoping that we find the answers to these questions and that in 2012, one hundred years after Alan Turing was born, we can take action to change things. That’s a change I want to be part of.