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Berners-Lee calls for computer science education at a younger age

Monday, 28th January 2013 12:25 GMT By Dave Cook

Accredited with creating the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee Knows a thing or two about the possibilities of computer coding. In a new new interview, Berners-Lee has called for an increase in computer science education at a younger age, to help children develop greater understanding of what makes computers tick, and how to code new applications and even games themselves.

Speaking in a video interview with World Economic Forum, Berners-Lee cautioned that while millions are using computer programs and using services like Twitter and Facebook, a low percentage of those users actually know how to code, or to understand why these tools and services work the way they do.

“A quarter of the planet uses the web,” he cautioned, “then within this quarter of people who may tweet and use social networks and so on, there’s a fairly small set of people who code. But when you look at those people, they have the ability to make a computer do whatever they can imagine.

“I think a lot of folks growing up today, when they open a computer, it’s like opening a refrigerator. It’s an appliance, it’s white goods, there’s some stuff in it, if it needs more in it you stock it, you put more music in it, you play it. And If it breaks it’s: ‘Mom, can I have a new one’.”

“It’s not actually ‘what went wrong there? Let me go in there, lets look at the log files, what crashed, why didn’t it have the right permissions, lets see if we can re-write that script so that it works in the new version of the operating system.’”

Berners-Lee also discussed the nature of IT education in schools, and criticised teaching bodies for giving children classes on how to use Microsoft Word, instead of teaching them how to get the most of of computers technically, or giving them the knowledge to code themselves.

He added, “I think we have to be careful about prejudging what’s good and what’s bad in certain things. But learning to understand a computer, learning actually how a computer ticks and being able to program it is in fact a high idea.

“It’s very important in education with this computer science, which is understanding the philosophy of computer and the mathematics of computing, and learning to really build stuff, it’s very different from the IT class, and I think making that distinction very clear and maybe early on in schools is very important.”

What do you think? Are kids now becoming so naturally proficient at using computers that basic IT courses are wasted? Should coding be taught in schools at a deeper level? Let us know below.

Thanks to Develop for the transcription.

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10 Comments

  1. Stardog

    Game development should be taught at an early age. It touches a lot of main subjects such as Math/Science/Art.

    Applying maths/physics to video games made me far more interested in learning them. I’m even into the history of math/science now, reading about Newton/Euler/etc.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Dragon246

    Salute to this guy. One of the most important person of previous century.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. fuchikoma

    I think most kids would resist programming lessons as they are, but could really benefit from simple game designing tools like (I’m dating myself here) Klik & Play. There must be something like that around now, but it seems it’s very rare. Just something that let them drop in a few actor objects and add some script to define their behaviour could kindle an interest in the ones with potential in this area, I think. Then they could move on from there, while others would just sort of remember basic concepts, like basic music lessons or foreign languages that are only compulsory at beginner levels.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. DrDamn

    @3
    Reel them in with something which doesn’t seem like programming is a good idea. I did a day at a primary school once where we brought Lego Mindstorm kits and laptops with us. We spent a good part of the day building robots/vehicles and then some time trying to program them to move around. The software was a bit archaic even then but the principles were good, what they were doing was essentially programming. It worked really well and the kids were engaged by different aspects. What I found interesting was that the boys tended to be attracted to the building part of the exercise and the girls were noticeably better at understanding and executing the programming side.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. fuchikoma

    @5 Interesting. I don’t know if that’s a larger overall trend (I certainly don’t know of many female programmers anywhere in the world, though I worked with one very good database analyst) but your story makes me think of Ada Lovelace and how she contributed quite significantly to the programming for Charles Babbage’s difference engine, correcting his own logic sometimes.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. accessibility.net

    Great article and kids today need math as that is the base. They need to memorize mathematical problems so they can build the left brain. Teach them the concept of IPO, input-Process-Output, and that at the transistor level, all computers are created equal. Demand they understand not only the decimal numbering system, but the binary numbering system too. Math is the base to learning and living in a technology world, and learning about computers (technology) needs to be fun. Bring back the lab, and the 8-bit processor and teach some assembly language, and drive some DC current to a bread board and learn about resistance and how that effects current, and turn on some LED’s, and design a traffic intersection and control the traffic lights. Every kid getting out of 6th grade should know this. Then move them on to learn to address the real problems we face. Every day 10,000 people turn 60 and with older age comes vision loss, and technology isolation. Millions of older adults will need an EASY GUI, or often called ezGUI, and we need the next generation to understand the problems and encourage them to solve the problem. If you learn to love math, you will enjoy the challenge to solve technical problems. Not everybody is a programmer, but everybody needs to learn the base which all programmers need.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Da Man

    No.

    Also, they should start by teaching kids how to use paragraphs.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. accessibility.net

    That is part of the same problem. Lack of education.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Alexander101

    I think the idea of getting kids into programming is a good and feasible one. I am directing the Scalable Game Design project and involved in a study funded by the National Science Foundation with over 10,000 students (elementary, middle and high school) indicating that students are not only motivated across gender and ethnicity but also that they acquire skills through game design which, later, they can apply towards science simulation building. Some links:

    - The Scalable Game Design strategy: http://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2012/5/148567-programming-goes-back-to-school/fulltext

    - project summary: http://scalablegamedesign.cs.colorado.edu/gamewiki/images/c/c7/One_Pager_CE21_CT4TC.pdf

    - see sample 2D and 3D games and run in browser: http://scalablegamedesign.cs.colorado.edu/arcade/

    #9 2 years ago
  10. emallove

    Khan Academy has some great introductory computer science materials.

    #10 1 year ago

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