Basically, the government have allocated £500,000 in matching funds which computing organisations can use to train teachers on coding. The proof will be in who steps up to the plate to deliver that. The British Computer Society, perhaps. Universities, maybe. Maybe some big tech companies like Google or Microsoft might. We’ll wait and see.
It’s sort of off to a bad start though because Lottie Dexter, the director of Year of Code, went on Newsnight and fumbled through an interview wherein she revealed that despite being put in charge of the initiative to teach children to code, she doesn’t know how to code. She also did a fairly crap job at explaining to Paxman why programming matters. And there’s plenty of things she could choose from: programming helps teach basic logic and mathematics in a fun and accessible way. Building software can be a form of self-expression and a way to shape the world around you. And, of course, it’s quite a useful skill to have for employment and that basically everything has software in it—not just phones, tablets and PCs but also cars, trains, planes, televisions, domestic appliances, schools and pretty much every organisation and business in the developed world will run on software of some kind.
The problem with Dexter’s performance isn’t that she doesn’t know how to code. She can learn that, I hope. It’s that in that interview she doesn’t know how to code and did a pretty ropey job of explaining why teaching kids to code matters. You can teach technical skills, you can teach presentational/marketing skills, but not having either seems a bit of a problem if you are in charge of an organisation like this.
Adrian Short has an interesting post about the Year of Code’s neoliberal agenda. I don’t buy the idea that it’s all down to a neoliberal agenda. I’ve got friends working in other government IT fields where they are working on a genuinely good thing but it has to be sexed up with economy-speak to make it palatable to politicians. Look at contemporary defences of the teaching of arts and humanities subjects in universities. The people in the field feel a bit dirty having to justify history or philosophy or literary studies on the basis that it turns out employable skilled graduates who can tuck neatly into a large bank, and would much rather defend their funding on the basis of the intrinsic value of the subjects, as well as the value of having an educated and informed polis in a democratic society. But when dealing with barbarians, appeals to Platonic ideals won’t win the day. If your interest is in keeping said subjects running in a university, sometimes barbaric pragmatism is necessary.
In terms of democratic reasons people ought to know more about technology and about coding, there’s plenty. In a world of mass surveillance and of large corporate ownership of computer systems, there are choices to be made. A technically educated populace can defend themselves both individually and collectively from the power of governments and large corporations who seek to control their lives. A more technically educated society would probably better understand the issues around electronic surveillance, encryption, security and anti-terror laws, Internet censorship, copyright and IP issues etc. just as a more scientifically literate society would hopefully be able to more fully understand issues like climate change and energy, public health, sex education, medical research, drugs etc. and be better able to see through the lies and misdirections of weasel politicians and scaremongering news editors who lie and misdirect people with pseudoscience and agenda-driven bullshit.
Teach kids to code and they may end up being corporate drones working for banks, or they may end up writing a new tool making it so normal people can GCHQ-proof their email. Only time will tell how badly the government will fuck this up.