The year of cluelessness
The government's "Year of Code" scheme, designed to get kids as young as five to program computers continues to come under fire. Clive Beale, a former teacher and now director of education outfit Raspberry Pi complains that the word "coding" has been "hijacked and abused by politicians and media who don't understand stuff".
That may sound like a strange claim from Beale, but it sums up the situation well. We can see the same happened with "environment". It too was hijacked by politicos and is now used to justify policies and to claim moral high grounds by people with only a hazy idea what it actually means.
Beale's voice is just one of many which is critical of the government's coding in schools, a scheme which will become part of the national curriculum in September. This video from Newsnight shows some of the glossy spin which is being put on this project, and the liberal use of "Code" as the new piece of jargon for 2014, a word which isn't quite defined anywhere but can be tossed around in an intellectually superior way and mixed in with equally meaningless phrases like "the new economy".
When the film refers to Tech City, it is talking about the Shoreditch area of London EC1. Because of the presence of a few high-tech media companies around Old Street roundabout, this became known as The Silicon Roundabout, a disparaging analogy to California's high-tech Silicon Valley. In 2010, a speech by David Cameron was used to rebrand this area as Tech City, and has become the place to be seen for "new media" companies, especially those chasing lucrative government contracts. The PR machine for the area gets around £1.7m per year in funding from the public purse and the companies in the area who can afford the sky-high rents get to rub shoulders with government policy makers.
Inevitably it means that once again London is promoted head and shoulders above any other British town or city, and given advantages that other business and science parks could only dream of.
The person interviewed by Jeremy Paxman is Lottie Dexter, the 25 year old Executive Director of the Year of Code project. Dexter graduated with a degree in Politics from Queen Mary's College, London, in 2010, and became Communications Director at the Centre for Social Justice, a Westminster Think-Tank set up by Ian Duncan Smith. She is also the Director of the Million Jobs Campaign, another political organisation which comes up with ideas such as the "Earn or Learn" scheme, a proposal that under 25s who are not in employment or education should be denied benefits, and claims this actually helps unemployed young people by stopping them falling into a benefits trap.
When you listen to the Paxman interview, Dexter does indeed say that it takes just an hour to build a website from scratch, and that in just one day you can pick up enough to teach someone coding. I am shocked at how ill-informed this person is, and how offensive that is to the hard-learnt skills of business and computer professionals. That is comparable to someone who has only ever travelled by train being appointed head of road safety and asserting that you can teach someone to drive in an hour, and teach someone enough to be a driving instructor in a day.
If she'd known code, Dexter says, she could have done her own graphics and built her own app and saved herself a lot of money. All this from someone who admits she doesn't know this magical thing called code, but hopes to learn it over the next year.
26th February 2014
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