The recent Year of Code debacle has had me looking back at the work of the first great coding educationalist, Seymour Papert. If you’re not aware of Papert’s work, but you are of a certain age, you may have come across his programming language invention Logo – a syntax to control the actions of a real or virtual robotic turtle.
Looking back on his work, what is particularly striking to me is that Papert saw coding as a tool to help people learn. When he invented Logo, computing was an esoteric thing that most people had no direct contact with. That he was proposing computers being used as a method of education was doubly revolutionary.
Today, on the one hand, computing is commonplace. “Learning” is pre-packaged into God-awful multiple-media packages and distributed on learning management systems the world over to help big corporations meet their regulatory obligations. But is coding as a tool to learn about things (like maths, logical thinking, critical analysis) particularly high on the agenda?
Through code people can discover the power of computer science, changing the way they think about, and get the most out of, the world around them.
is what the Year of Code say. It’s all quite “learn code to learn computers”.
The projects we make teach children how to program by showing them how to make computer games, animations and websites…. Each term the students will progress and learn more whilst at the same time using their imaginations and making creative projects.
is the Code Club approach. Still quite “teach coding”.
And that’s great, but (and I speak as the father of two with the eldest starting school in September) I want my kids to learn to learn. Not just learn things. And the more that the industry (particularly the tech start-up industry) wades into this whole debate, the more that the purpose will shift from education to vocational skills acquisition.
With the risk of sounding like a terrible old fart, I learned to code as a kid not because it would give me a career or because it was on the curriculum. I learned because it was fun to explore and play and learn. Just as it was fun to play football, or go out on my bike, or read a great book.
And now I’m sounding like some wishy-washy liberal. Which I absolutely am. And, as I discussed yesterday, is partly the philosophy that made the biggest company in the world.