Berners-Lee - Teach Young Children To Code!
Written by Alex Armstrong   
Thursday, 31 January 2013

From a programming point of view the World Economic Forum in Davos is of little interest but Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the web, has raised the issue of teaching younger children to program.

In case you missed it Tim Berners-Lee really is the man who invented the internet. He put together the first web page using an early HTML and HTTP. Since then its development has largely been out of his hands because of its explosive uncontrollable growth. He has occasionally made statements intended to curb something undesirable or back something good but the web is too big for one man to influence let alone control. Even so his celebrity gives him a platform to inform and influence politicians - hence his presence at Davos and this video interview.




The first part of the interview isn't particularly novel if you are interested in technology  - some descriptions of what the internet is for and a discussion of some of the problems. In particular he highlights the problem of creating an open web and access to academic papers in paid for journals. He touches on the Aaron Swartz affair with the comment that

"The secret service in the use decided he was a hacker, for them this isn't a term of great praise. For me a hacker is someone who is creative and does wonderful things"

The part of the interview that touches on education starts at around the 25 min mark. He points out that of the quarter of the planet that uses the web only a very small proportion code or understand anything about how it works. He goes on to express a concern that most users treat computers as commodity items as if they were refrigerators. He says that this means that in this disposable world the tendency is to simply replace a gadget that seems to be not working rather than investigating the logs and tinkering with the settings to see if the problem can be corrected in software. Of course not many MP3 players say have log files -but you get his general point.

He also criticizes the way schools and education in general has tended to reinforce the helpless attitude by teaching not deeper principles but how to use Word or other office suites. That he thinks is important is:

"...understanding the philosophy and the mathematics of computing and learning to really build stuff, it is very different from the IT class and I think that making that distinction very clear and maybe early on in schools is very important"



Of course you can argue that Berners-Lee is wrong and what was right in his day isn't right for now. It might well be desirable for computers to become appliances and it might well be ok for users to know nothing about them. The flaw in this argument is that computers aren't washing machines they are the instruments of creativity but only if their users aren't helpless.

Yes learning to code opens the door to so many ideas and ways of thinking - it is unforgivable that we don't consider it part of a basic education.


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Last Updated ( Thursday, 31 January 2013 )