England is the first G20 country to formally recognise the importance of teaching children computing. Since September 2014, children aged five and up have been learning the fundamentals of programming in schools around the country. Now that the first term teaching coding has ended the next has just begun (in addition to David Cameron officially announcing a computer science GCSE to launch in 2016), it’s worth looking back at the first term of coding in schools to evaluate the impact so far.
When the new curriculum was first announced, there were certainly some questions about the importance of children learning to code. The answer is that it’s critical that our children learn skills that will stay with them long after leaving the classroom, of which coding is one. It is predicted that in just a few years, there will be a shortage of 300,000 digitally skilled workers in London alone, with an additional 900,000 across Europe. While a majority of students may have little interest in becoming computer scientists or software engineers, digital literacy will be hugely beneficial in a world where technology is being embedded deeper and deeper into our everyday lives.
From the education community, there have also been questions about both how teachers have been coping and will cope with the change. The shift from ICT to “Computing,” has undoubtedly been one of the biggest changes to the national curriculum since its inception more than 25 years ago, and as with any big change it comes with its own set of challenges - two in particular stand out.
The first is that, overall, teachers have limited knowledge of the subject of coding. Many former ICT teachers have no experience in programming or teaching computational concepts, some coming from backgrounds in music or business, for instance. Even though the government has provided a few million in funding, it isn’t enough to train a whole workforce. Lots of teachers have taken it upon themselves to get up to speed with the new curriculum using free resources they find online and attending as many teacher training courses they can fit into their busy schedules.
The second challenge is the lack of confidence that can come with teaching a new subject. A report released by innovation charity Nesta and TES prior to the school year found that 60 per cent of teachers lacked confidence in teaching the new computing curriculum. The good thing is that here at Codecademy, we have found that after just one term, the teachers we work with are already feeling more confident. Experience in the classroom is certainly helping, but by far the biggest impact has been the reaction from students.
It’s clear that children are really enjoying the new curriculum - even those who may not have been expected to excel in the subject. One teacher shared a story about a student who has learning difficulties and finds reading and writing challenging. However, in her computing class she is at the top of the Codecademy leaderboard. This has enabled her to improve her self-esteem considerably as she has found a niche where she can be successful and prove that to others.
Our teachers are also keen to share advice with each other. Marc Scott, for example, a computer science and coding teacher using Codecademy, recommends that teachers first get online for resources to help them get up to speed with the curriculum. Organisations like Computing at School (CAS) are helpful, and Marc says the key to picking up the basics in order to keep up with the curriculum is simply - like the students - practice, practice, practice!
There is still a significant amount of work to be done to get all our teachers in the UK confident in teaching computing. Ongoing training is a big part of this, and schools need to continue to support their teachers.
We won’t know the results of this change (from an examination perspective) for a few years, when the first cohort of 10 and 11 year olds complete their GCSEs. But despite this, we feel confident at Codecademy that making the change now will only serve to positively impact children in England and their futures.
Rachel Swidenbank, head of UK operations at Codecademy
Image © iStock/Christopher Futcher