Is the Year of Code strong enough?

Osborne and Gove, recently launched Year of Code to raise programming awareness, but Simon Harbridge asks, is it strong enough?

Since its launch there has been remarkable media coverage and public reaction through social media and comment sections. Some seasoned programmers feel that the ‘learn to code in a day’ approach is misleading. Some feel that any initiative that puts computing as the central educational tool is much needed. Many see Year of Code as a glib PR opportunity for some and a cursory Government head nod for others.

We are in full appreciation of what the Year of Code seems to be trying to do. Whatever its outcome, it’s raising the profile of a skill that we hope will be more and more standard as this decade progresses, for anyone looking for a job that involves ICT. A better understanding of coding, what it entails, what its parameters are, and how it fits into the workplace is also much needed.

A couple of examples: if a graduate goes to work at a bank as part of a design team which is launching a new customer initiative, knowing what kind of brief programmers will need to complete their part would make project management far smoother. If a sales team for a software company know the languages and platforms the product they are selling has been built on, they can sell more confidently. It’s hard to think of a career that a basic knowledge of coding wouldn’t help.

Most importantly for our customers anything that helps ICT teachers to teach the right e-skills, get children to choose technology as a career path or be confident in using computers at work is vital. The new computing curriculum is a big change for teaching in 2014, and must feel like a weighty responsibility. Teachers, support staff and of course pupils are going to be asked to understand more than ever before about how computers work, how coding contributes to mathematics and sciences, and how ICT fits into the world of business. 

However, we don’t think it’s all down to teachers and schools, and we think action should go beyond the backing of the high-profile digiterati involved in Year of Code. If, like our business at Stone Group, other IT employers expect skilled technology workers, we should be doing more too. Hardware, software, services and resellers should be doing more to invest funding into extra curricular schemes and invest time into mentoring teachers. Like needs to breed more like. If this investment from the government was combined with support from the IT industry then a difference could be made.

The Year of Code website also has some very telling stats on its homepage, including that one in six people lack basic digital skills, and that 50% of people want to learn to code. Translate this back into education, and it seems that this drive for better ICT skills should be aimed at all teachers, not just those teaching ICT. Everybody is going to be learning here, it seems. From student teachers with no experience of anything bar their own laptops, to long-term staff worrying about increased responsibility for wifi networks, servers and a new fleet of tablets, there could be a big skills gap. All teachers have to make the most of the tech equipment they are being asked to use to teach kids and maintain a digitally switched on school and we’re going to have to make sure that they know how to do this and who to turn to if they don’t. This should be the first line of the algorithm for success that the Year of Code must get right, and if as an initiative, it can’t do this alone, it needs to work with big business, IT suppliers and wider ICT programmes to be more supportive.