Thoughts on Being Able to Code

22 Mar, 2012 | ComputersTechTdp

I've been going through some of my old posts recently, and I stumbled across one that was rather relevant considering the recent headlines grabbed by the Raspberry Pi, the £25 computer designed to let kids get back to writing code on simpler computers.

In a previous post, I asked who would write tomorrow's code and decided that I thought more non-programmers would write code, by using visual tools or predefined code blocks to cobble together working apps.  To an extent those tools already exist (you can build iPhone Apps with zero code).

The Beeb also asked the question of whether kids want to learn to code, and the reaction seems very mixed (understandably so, not everyone will go on to do jobs in the programming sector, I'd argue being able to code in some way is sneaking in everywhere, from search terms to Excel formulas).

In a survey of 100 pupils, the school reporters found mixed feelings about the changes. Thirty-five percent disagreed with Mr Gove's view of ICT as "dull", while 28% thought it was a good idea to make changes. The rest were undecided.

In part it is down to the fact that Lampton [School] has embraced ICT. While nationally only about a third of ICT teachers are trained specialists, at Lampton all four are.

I'd argue that the fundamentals of programming -- variables, functions, conditional statements, loops, etc -- are a lot like maths.  They're concepts that are independent of the language and are the fundamental building blocks for any environment in the same way functions like addition and multiplication are.

I also happened to pick up a story in Slate about a journalist who was teaching herself to code.  She talks about the Little Coders Predicament, something mentioned by a Ruby evangelist called _why.

In the 1980s, you could look up from your Commodore 64, hours after purchasing it, with a glossy feeling of empowerment, achieved by the pattern of notes spewing from the speaker grille in an endless loop. You were part of the movement to help machines sing! You were a programmer! The Atari 800 people had BASIC. They know what I'm talking about. And the TI-994A guys don't need to say a word, because the TI could say it for them!

The rest is worth a read too, and that was written in 2003.  He built Hackety Hack to help introduce kids to coding.  Sounds a lot like the aims of the Pi Foundation.

One thing very few people seem to be discussing is that we can provide the tools, but it's up to the kids to use them and there are programming tools already available for those who want to look.  The Pi on its own won't solve the problems it has set out in its goals, but hopefully there will be some projects to inspire them and the removal of barriers to let them get on and actually code.  Once they do, some of them will find it addictive (I do), especially when they can see what they can do (that's why I think the Pi as a platform is a much more exciting prospect).