The Chancellor of the Exchequer and Education Secretary have today (Tuesday 4 February) announced a new £500,000 fund to train teachers in software coding, so our schools can inspire the next generation of tech entrepreneurs.(Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/year-of-code-and-500000-fund-to-inspire-future-tech-experts-launched)
Teaching kids how to code is a great idea. Not only does it teach them about logic, it gives them skills that can be applied across many careers. Getting kids familiar with tech and into the nitty gritty of the architecture of those endless games they play is hugely beneficial.
Except that Lottie Dexter, the director of this initiative, can't code. Nor does she seem to have a fundamental understanding of what's involved in coding. She told Jeremy Paxman that teachers could be trained to code "in a day" and that programming basics could be learned "in an hour." When asked to explain what coding is, she paused then admitted that she didn't actually know how to write code.
My understanding of programming is very basic; I took a course in C+ a bazillion years ago and I know enough HTML to put together a fairly basic web page without using a WYSIWYG editor (which isn't a programming language, I know.) I can decipher developer's comments in the code enough to put together an SDK. That's about it. But that's okay because I'm not in charge of anything that involves programming. Like most normal people, my job is doing something in which I'm actually qualified.
How Lottie Dexter got this job and then managed to make a mockery of herself on Newsnight is beyond me. Who let her go on national television without briefing her on the definition of code? Not only did her television appearance show that she's out of her depth and ignore the complexity of programming, it reinforced the stereotype that us laydeez don't do tech.
I watched the interview through my fingers, cringing at Dexter's responses. In comments below blog posts about the interview, people made references to her good looks and Tory connections. So not only can girls not code, pretty girls most definitely can't code and only get jobs because they're hot and know people.
The problem is, this interview happened a year too soon. Dexter said that she was devoting a year to learning how to code (which is a vague statement, but let's assume she means learning the basics of a particular language.) What would have been great and inspirational is seeing a woman learn a high tech skill and then have a chat about it on national television. In an age where parents struggle to teach our kids that there are no "boy toys" and "girl toys" despite what the ads tell us, this would have been a very good thing.
I don't mind that she is learning along the way and that she's not an experienced programmer, but for goodness sake, don't throw her to the Paxman when she hasn't got a clue. Despite all the sneering comments and this shambolic interview, I genuinely hope that this initiative does teach the next generation about tech. Particularly, I hope that it inspires girls who think being technically inept is "cute" to give it a go.
Programming isn't for everyone -we're not all wired for it - and I'm never going to get excited about Java or C#. I want my kids to be able to visualise logic like a flowchart and program a Raspberry Pi. I want them to understand the technology in the world around them. Let's just hope that whoever trains these teachers is far more prepared than the person leading this initiative.