Editorial: Let's be lt;bgt;proudlt;bgt; of our coding achievements

16th January 2015 at 00:00

We're not terribly good at showing off in this country. Even when we're doing something right, we don't like to blow our own trumpet about it.

This urge to do ourselves down is rarely more pronounced than in two sectors: the digital economy and education.

You would be hard pushed, for example, to find anyone in the schools ecosystem willing to point out that education in this country is among the very best in the world (which it is).

Similarly, despite a vibrant digital sector, newspapers, politicians and businessmen are all too happy bemoaning our lack of a home-grown Google, Facebook or Twitter.

If you believe the pub-bore analysis so common in British life, this is because the kids produced by our schools don't have the first idea about entrepreneurship or computing, business or get-up-and-go.

Another familiar feature of the masochism merry-go-round is our failure to increase take-up of modern foreign languages to even average international levels. The "monoglot nation" is a label we willingly self-administer.

Taking all this gleeful self-loathing into account, it's probably best that you steady yourself, because what follows here and in the cover feature is an unashamed celebration of good news. It even contains optimism.

Here goes. England is leading the way in one specific kind of language learning: coding. And the global educational and digital communities are gazing admiringly, even adoringly, in our direction.

Specifically what's being eyed up is England's new computing curriculum, which came into force last September. The likes of Google and Facebook really appear to love it. It is ahead of the global game in many ways, putting the study of coding, algorithms and software on an equal footing with the sciences, the humanities and languages in secondaries. Most radical, however, is the decision to make the study of computing compulsory even at primary level, which has not been tried before anywhere else in the world, apart from Estonia.

Here's where the parallels with other language-learning become most obvious. After all, it is in countries such as the Netherlands, where they embrace language teaching and learning early in primary, that multilingualism is most widespread in adulthood.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if little Jonny in Jarrow could be as triumphant with multiple programming languages as little Rudi in Rotterdam is with English, French and the like?

Inevitably the new computing curriculum has its naysayers - teaching nine-year-olds coding that will probably bear no resemblance to the computer science they'll need when they're 22 is ridiculous, they say. And some claim that the current teaching workforce simply doesn't have the skill set to achieve the curriculum's lofty ambitions.

These concerns are not without justification. This kind of change is not going to be easy. Some of the content of the new schemes of work will be less than useful. Individual teachers may struggle. Some schools won't adapt.

But that doesn't mean it's not worth trying. Because if we - and by "we" I mean the whole country - can get this right, then it should result in a better, more affluent, future for all of us.

Just don't expect anyone to shout about it.



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