My younger son (or Youngest as he's known around here) is a 12 year old computer wizard. He has so much computer equipment, wiring and accessories that I have nicknamed his room, 'The Technolair'.
At school he does ICT where much of the subject matter he could actually teach the class himself. At home he is part of the army of Minecraft addicts, he makes his own amusing graphics on DeviantArt and animations that he uploads to YouTube. He has taught himself how to do all of this.
Today I heard on Radio 4's Today show about how some of the biggest firms in hi-tech, including Google and Microsoft, are calling for major changes in how the UK teaches computing to give Britain the skills it needs to compete. I whole-heartedly endorse this. While learning Office-based programs like Word, Excel and Access are very useful, my son, who has Asperger Syndrome and enough challenges in his life as it is, could use a leg up by being taught coding.
The problem, here, is that do our Secondary School level ICT teachers have the up-to-date skills in coding to teach young people? If not, schools need to buy in some expertise or training. And, if companies like Google and Microsoft are calling for a revolution in ICT, perhaps they would like to put their hands in their pockets and offer some funding to provide these experts, or the training opportunities for our existing ICT teachers to help them create the computer geniuses of tomorrow.
In my son's case, even an after-school club would be enough to give him the basics and he could take it from there himself. For young people with certain difficulties such as him, any help in their areas of strength should be given the utmost priority. He already wants to build a computer from scratch but even though I'm a little bit geeky myself, such a project may be beyond me, especially as he has a unique learning style and his brain works in ways that are hard for most people to fathom.
There is a project called http://www.computingatschool.org.uk/ that has lots of free resources for teachers and young people including an exciting-looking competition called Codebreaker. There is also a cheap computer system called Rasberry Pi whose developers are designing an ultra-low-cost computer for use in teaching computer programming to children. Their first product is about the size of a credit card, and is designed to plug into a TV or be combined with a touch screen for a low cost tablet. The expected price is $25 (£15) for a fully-configured system. There is an informative article in The Register about it.
As soon as I can, I'm going to get one of these babies for Youngest for whom we are currently designing a new larger bedroom to his precise specifications. The new, improved Technolair will no doubt be raided by police at sometime in the future after he has taken over the internet - which is why he needs expert guidance in focusing his computer genius for good, not mischief. I am joking here, but the serious point is that we need the coding experts of today to help disseminate their knowledge in practical ways to the next generation inside schools. That takes investment and the will of companies such as Microsoft, google and the Double Negative company of Alex Hope, who spoke on the Today programme this morning, to turn words into action today.
Alex Hope is also the co-author of a report called Next Gen, described as a landmark report setting out how the UK can be transformed into the world’s leading talent hub for video games and visual effects. he clearly knows what he's talking about so hopefully people who can make this a reality will listen.
Now, will Government and IT companies please form an orderly queue and get on with it?