Google's Summer of Code has been running for a few years now, and is an established and important fixture for the free software world:
Since its inception in 2005, the program has brought together over 4500 successful student participants and over 3000 mentors from over 100 countries worldwide, all for the love of code.
An obvious question is: where are all those participants coming from? Now we know; here are the top ten countries by student count:
Sri Lanka 33
Now, you might expect the US to be first, with major emerging countries like India, China, Brazil and Russia close behind. Germany, too, has a strong technical tradition, and so its position high in the table is not surprising. But you have to wonder what is going on here when not only Poland, but also Romania and Sri Lanka are all fielding more students than the UK – which doesn't even appear in the top 10.
After all, this is the country that gave the world the first computers with Babbage, and the first digital systems with Turing – to say nothing of the Web thanks to Tim Berners-Lee. So how is it possible that we can't muster even a few dozen students to take part in the Google Summer of Code?
I think this goes back to what I was saying in connection with the Rasperry Pi the other day. Once hacking thrived in the UK, largely thanks to the BBC Micro and the host of other machines that were available. But more recently, that excitement and curiosity had been replaced by boredom and indifference.
And no wonder: who could possibly be inspired to explore the rich and diverse world of computers after years of soul-destroying indoctrination at school into the One True Microsoft Way? The utterly misguided policies concerning IT education in this country have succeeded in killing off one of the most flourishing and vibrant computing cultures around, and that has clearly fed into the UK's abysmal recent showing in the Google Summer of Code breakdown by country.
What's truly amazing is that the UK government seems hell-bent on making things even worse by putting further obstacles in the way of children eager to access educational material online – something that has a major impact on their exam results according to recent research:
A million children's exam results will be on average a grade lower than their peers this year because they do not have internet access at home, according to a leading charity.
The e-Learning Foundation says that children without access to a computer in the evening are being increasingly disadvantaged in the classroom. Research suggests that 1.2 million teenagers log on to revision pages every week and those using online resources were on average likely to attain a grade higher in exams.
That's the situation today, and it's bad enough; now consider what will happen when the Digital Economy Act comes fully into force. If the "three strikes and you're out" policy is implemented – as seems probable given the pressure being applied by industry lobbyists – it is inevitable that even more children will be unable to access the Internet at home, because the computer they use has been completely disconnected from the Internet under the Digital Economy Act.
This underlines why this approach is so unjust: it punishes an entire household, regardless of who has been accused of sharing files. In particular, it punishes those who need the Internet more than anyone – schoolchildren. Ironically, if this were a war, such collective punishment would be against the Geneva Conventions.
This is a good example of how the regulatory capture that enabled badly drawn-up legislation like the Digital Economy Act to pass will lead to the UK sinking even lower in the global educational league tables. It seems that preserving the old and failing business models of the media industries is more important than ensuring that all young people in the UK have the chance to fulfil their potential to the maximum.