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Let's face it, we all should be coders now

All teachers should have a try at computer programming. Extra-ordinarily, this was the view of TES as early as 1969, when punch cards were needed to input data and the idea that consumers would each own personal computers must have seemed a mad fantasy.

"All teachers ... have had pupils for whom it was necessary to spell out instructions in great detail, small steps at a time, leaving no loose ends," the newspaper explained. "Programming is very much like this."

The logical nature of programming is why even some traditionalists can appreciate its intellectual merit. Yet coding must also be seen as a creative art. The mathematician Conrad Wolfram summed this up neatly when he told the Learning Without Frontiers conference this year that "programming is to maths what composition is to English".

At the same event the programmer Jaron Lanier argued that we should not passively accept the restrictions placed on us by commercial computer programs. This is another argument for teaching pupils to code: to make them less docile consumers of technology, and more citizens who know how to tinker and create.

If any of them take programming further and gain employment in the UK's creative digital industries, well, that is just a bonus.

Clearly, programming will be a popular option to fill the gap from September, when schools will continue to have compulsory ICT but will be free to decide on the curriculum themselves. But it would be a mistake just to leave coding to maths teachers or ICT staff (the keenest of whom are gathering this weekend for the annual conference of their professional association NAACE). Having a quick play with simple-to-use systems such as Scratch or Kodu shows the potential for many subjects, from music to history.

So it is worth repeating the argument TES made about programming in 1969 and in the 1980s and 1990s, over and over again. Luckily, those who grew up with Basic on the BBC Micro may recall the shortcut:


20 GOTO 10


Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro @mrmichaelshaw.

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