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John Spencer

Dr John Spencer began his teaching career in 1981 armed with a Sinclair ZX81, thereby demonstrating two things at once: Firstly he was in at the very start of ICT in the classroom and secondly he is a sucker for duff technology. Thereafter he taught joining a start-up open source company as their Head of Education in 2002. Now John is bringing his iconoclastic disposition and tendency to throw a spanner in the works to blogging.

All students must learn to code, Star Trek will 'make it so'

There is no alternative ...

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For thirty years I have been preparing young people to leave school either to enter the world of work or to go onto higher education. Never have I witnessed such a dearth of opportunity before.

Around 1.1 million under 24 years old NEETS ( not doing nuffin’ ) speaks for itself.

The ‘holding-pen’ role of mass University education to keep down unemployment has run its course leaving two conventional solutions to this crisis ( not too strong?) the first is to create more jobs the second is to better suit the young people to what jobs are available.

This is a non-trivial task especially as during ten boom years the UK filled its jobs and skills gap through immigration increasing the total population by 19%. But when you take into account that currently there are 10 million over 65s you can safely calculate that the younger working population increased by nearly 30%.

If you are not depressed enough already, an increase in the pensionable age means that old gits like me cling to our incomes. It follows that our next generation will find it hard enough to get work just through demographic stats let alone any educational and/or personal failures we may ascribe to them.

Can those of us in IT education help in anyway? We know that uptake of computer-related courses from 16 to 19 are still in free fall so the perception of the young is clearly not perceiving that ICT offers a way out of the bind. They are probably right too. Most IT jobs are either support or reseller work .

Regarding the former; I predicted years ago that as software became more reliable and our ways of working moved to the browser space that support for that cranky old XP network behemoth would dwindle to effectively zero. By and large this prediction has come to pass.

Regarding the latter; the rise and rise of high quality Free, Open Source software has squeezed the margins out of proprietary equivalents. The price schools pay for MS Office for example has fallen by nearly 90% in the last five years. This is a good thing if you are a company or college aiming to reduce costs, it’s not so good if you are a supplier of either hardware or software who is employing thousands of people.

That logically leaves us only with one option...teach coding.

I was completely bowled-over by a BBC Radio 4 programme about ‘Fab-Labs’ of which I knew nothing. Think Star Trek fabricators for a clue as to what this industry is all about. Basically the premise is that fabrication of most stuff can be fully automated and sited anywhere, preferably somewhere conveniently nearby. Forget Chinese style cheap labour think ‘no-labour’.

This post is not about fab-labs however and I must stop Googling it, but about what the presenter pointed out at the end of the article.

He said that this means the issue of production becomes the production of the digital code that tells the machines what to do. Thus as a city or a nation you will be only as good as your coders, else you will have to outsource for brains.

In conclusion, for educational IT to give our students a chance in what is really an emergency situation we should consider making coding compulsory from an early age. Of course they will hate it as much as they moan about maths but no-one seriously considers letting them off doing maths, and so it should be for coding.

One request, not MS Visual Basic please.

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