Should children learn to programme a computer before they leave school?

At Speakr we’re interested in the increasingly central role that technology plays in the lives of our children. When we were researching, prototyping and testing early versions of the Speakr system, we talked to more than a hundred children about the access they have to the Internet at home, the things they do online, the games they play, who they communicate with, and so on.

In every school we were struck by the curiosity that the children showed about the mechanics of Speakr, and by the enthusiasm they showed for taking an active part in the development of a system that would be used by other children in schools anywhere in the world.

The UK’s new Computing Curriculum has the potential to equip every one of our children with the knowledge and practical skills to create their own computer programs and apps – to take publically-available data and produce something useful, or to make games that they enjoy playing. Supporters think that (in conjunction with the wildly successful Raspberry Pi) it will create a generation of curious, creative, skilled young people. It may, or it may not, but at the very least creating an environment in which children can learn problem-solving skills, and the mechanics of the machines they use day to day has to be a positive step. 

If Computer Science seems a little intimidating as a Primary School teacher, this is the best introduction we’ve found to the subject.

Speakr gives schools the ability to ask all their registered pupils a question and get very quick feedback. Once pupils have answered the school’s question, they see the current Speakr question – the capability to survey the 700+ Primary School children registered on Speakr about a topical issue and have an answer in a few days is something that we’re excited about.

For the last week we’ve been asking children whether they think it's important to learn how to programme a computer before school:

The scores are in:

  • 58% said Yes.
  • 34% weren’t sure, and just
  • 7% said No.

We’d say that these results indicate a generally positive attitude towards programming, and we’re think that some of the ‘Don’t Know’ responses were because some younger children in particular may have been unsure what programming a computer actually meant.

As those of us who have made a new year’s resolution to ‘learn a new language this year’ might concede – liking the idea of something and doing it are two different things. However, with the support of good teachers, and of engaged parents, we can help make the most of the opportunity our children now have.