Sunday, 5 January 2014

ICT education in Hong Kong is broken

"ICT in schools" has become a toxic brand. We have to replace it with a subject that is relevant, intellectually sustaining and life-enhancing for students.

When I was at primary school my class programmed a robot to move around our classroom. ‘Rob’ as he was proudly named, would avoid any objects placed ahead of him. This led to hours of fun trying to find something we could get him crash into. Then we all reached secondary school and robots were replaced with Microsoft Office. It was so dull it turned me, and many of my friends, off computers for years.

We are teaching children to become secretaries.

There is clearly a need for children to learn traditional software products at school (I drafted this post in Microsoft Word - thanks Mrs Cook!), but we need realise, and quickly, that “ICT” in the modern world has become more than being able to add sexy animations to Powerpoint slides.

Move fast, break things

There's a sense of tectonic plates shifting in the halls of power. But as with most big policy debates, there's a lot of axe-grinding, lobbying and special pleading going on. Universities want to reverse the decline in applicants for computer science courses. Gaming companies want more programmers. The government wants more high-tech start-ups. Manufacturers want trainees who can design embedded systems. And head teachers want bigger budgets for even more computer labs. And so on.

What's missing from all this is a big vision. So here's my shot at one:
Starting in primary school, children from all backgrounds and every part of the Hong Kong should have the opportunity to: learn some of the key ideas of computer science; understand computational thinking; learn to program; and have the opportunity to progress to the next level of excellence in these activities.
This isn’t about pushing kids to be computer scientists. It’s about building a curriculum that is relevant to the future economy so our next generations can compete globally. It’s about complimenting core skills like mathematics and logical thinking. But most importantly, it’s about providing truly engaging content that opens up children's eyes to the possibilities of computing, not just Microsoft branded products.

Free code

At Code Club we don’t think we can afford to wait years for these changes to make there way into schools. We believe the time for change is now.

We want to set-up a network of after-school clubs to teach young children, aged 9-11, how to programme computers. Code Club has created projects and materials for volunteers to teach at their local school or library for an hour a week.

Projects are built around practical hands-on tasks teaching children how to program by showing them how to make computer games, animations and websites. You can view some examples of the projects here.

The idea is to build things that are really exciting, we want children to be making stuff. Code Club has been widely successful in the UK (over 1600 clubs) with support from educational bodies, leading figures in the technology industry, government officials, and even members of the royal family.

It is our aim to have 20% of the Hong Kong's primary schools running a Code Club by 2016.

Although still in our early days, Code Club Hong Kong has already attracted 20 awesome volunteers. And it’s not surprising - the sessions are fun to run and highly rewarding.

Think you’ve got what it takes? Join the club.

Useful links:

Code Club Hong Kong:
Code Club World:
Mozilla Hackasaurus:
Coder Dojo:

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