Last Tuesday I was invited to speak to students at my old Grammar School; they were holding a careers evening for their year 10 students. It’s in year 10 that these kids are expected to have decided what they want to do for the rest of their lives, and plan for it in terms of going to University or getting an apprenticeship or something else altogether. I should maybe explain how old Year 10 students are for this to resonate with you: year 10 students fall between 14 and 15. That’s madness. But it’s how life is.
I remember how I wanted to go into Law from very early on at Grammar School. I read books and was dead set on it for years; my AS and A levels were aimed at going to do Law. I picked Government and Politics, English Literature, Maths and Computing. Well, life happens and I realised I would have hated Law during my AS levels. I loved working with computers and making/doing things in a digital arena, so I ended up doing a degree called Multimedia Technology and Design at the University of Kent. Sorry for the personal history, but my point is it’s incredibly difficult for these students to even remotely know what they want to go and do at this age.
I loved working with computers and making/doing things in a digital arena
Back to the event.
This year’s event was great - I had the right sign above my name this year. Last year I had “Multimedia” or something along those lines because of my degree. I ended up getting asked questions about how to get into media and a load of other questions that I didn’t know the answer to. I’d have to explain that I’d taken a certain degree and that it helped me decide what I wanted to do with my life but not a lot more. This year was completely different. For over an hour and a half I had a steady stream of people come and talk to me and ask me questions about “Web Technology” was and what was involved in getting a job in the web industry.
Ok, this is where I started getting a little disheartened. They didn’t know much about the web industry at all. I said the words Web Industry and I got back blank stares from the majority of students; don’t get me wrong - they were hugely interested in the topic but things didn’t add up for me. Now, I don’t blame the teachers in the education system one bit. My mum used to be a teacher; I know the pain they go through. It’s the same at University; the education system just can’t keep up with advances in the industry. Who remembers coding using Pascal? I mentioned to one of the students that I learnt Pascal when I did Computing at AS Level over 10 years ago and was astounded when they said back to me “We still learn it today”.
I had a steady stream of people come and talk to me and ask me questions about “Web Technology” was
From what I heard the other day; there’s still a huge backing in schools behind traditional “Computer Science” type coding; Pascal?! I mean really?! Some would argue that typical Computer Science models are growing slowly in comparison to the Web, the Web is where most development will be in 6 or 7 years time. Yes, typical application development will never die; in fact it’s probably growing thanks to App Stores bringing apps to the forefront of all of the major OS’s today. But the web is growing at an ridiculous rate. Browsers can do more and more every week thanks to huge advances in our growing understanding of what we should expect our web experiences.
This begs the question, what should we be teaching our students at school? Looking back, I think learning PHP or Python would have been much more beneficial and useful to me at that age. Have I gone back and programmed in Pascal since AS and A level? No. Not. One. Line. I couldn’t even tell you how to today without having to look it up first.
If someone has a mind that they can apply to coding, of any kind, they can go and pick up lower level programming after they learn the basics with a much nicer and friendlier language - PHP is very forgiving but teaches how to get to grips with coding practices and problem solving. I’d love to go into schools and get them learning Node.js because it’s relevant in today’s web industry but that’s just not going to happen. I wouldn’t wish asynchronous programming on anyone as their first programming lesson. PHP or Python really are useful. The Raspberry Pi in schools has shown this.
Have I gone back and programmed in Pascal since AS and A level? No. Not. One. Line.
To my surprise, Python is one of the languages referenced in AQA’s teaching materials alongside C#, Java, Pascal and VB.Net. The lack of web technology really disappoints me and just shows that the education system can’t keep up with the industry as a whole; I mean even if I forget about the Web industry here, Pascal and VB.Net shouldn’t even be on that list any more - and don’t get me started on Java.
Maybe I don’t understand enough about the education system, or how much information students aged between 14 and 18 can really take in at both GCSE and AS / A Level. But I know I’d love to see more web concepts being taught at school. I can’t believe that learning Pascal or Java is easier than using PHP for example. Who is failing here? I know it’s not the schools. Is it the exam boards like AQA and OCR? Maybe, I don’t know enough. Is it the UK government’s fault? Absolutely, it all falls on the Department of Education one way or another.
learning web development at this age should go beyond HTML and CSS
Do you teach GCSE or AS / A Level Computing? Is there something I’m missing here? Am I being too harsh on the system or do you think I’m right and we really need to move away from typical “Computing” type teaching and get students to use modern day techniques and exams that test what you know about a subject not by writing about it on a bit of paper but by writing an actual program that does actual things and works. Let me know in the comments.
I’d like to clarify that by no means am I accusing my old school of getting things wrong here. Far from it. I know they care about their students. I had a great time talking to students and parents about what I do and how I got to where I am today. I hope I can do it again. If you want me to come to your school why not get in touch?