Coding is now a compulsory part of the English school curriculum, aimed at giving children aged five to 14 a basic knowledge of computer programming.
This has received positive feedback from the technology industry, which welcomes the move as a way to close the UK's IT skills gap.
Melissa Di Donato, vice-president at Salesforce, said the changes are a strong sign of the UK's commitment to becoming a hub of IT talent and innovation. "It represents a critical step towards ensuring the next generation has the skills they need to excel and that the industry has the people it requires to flourish," she said.
But despite the positive impact the new curriculum could have on the UK technology industry and the wider economy, there are concerns the education system is simply not ready to implement such major changes.
Perhaps the biggest concerns are coming from teachers, notably the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), which has expressed doubt about the revised curriculum since it was announced in 2013. The ATL believes the government rushed the new curriculum through to schools and ignored the issues raised.
Christine Gregory, an ATL spokesperson, told V3 the government paid "lip service to consultation," adding that "there was not a lot of time to go through huge changes in detail".
Gregory went on to say that while the ATL believes digital skills are important, the government's goal of teaching them to five-year-olds is unrealistic.
However, Anne Marie Neatham, chief operating officer at Ocado Technology, which is promoting the importance of coding for both children and adults, told V3 she disagrees with the ATL's conclusions.
"We see coding as something that's really, really important. ICT does not really teach the skillsets that people need in real life. Coding is a ‘meta skill' rather than a hobby and should be embedded in the school system," she stated.
Neatham went on to say that coding must be taught in primary schools otherwise those that could grasp it might miss out on developing digital skills.
She did concede it might take some time for the education system to highlight the best way to teach coding across the school years. "England is the first country to teach five-year-olds code, but it will take some time to find out how it works," she explained.
Neatham said teaching code to young children is no different to teaching mathematics, given that coding can be both basic and complex. She added that teachers who say children are too young to learn such skills "points to the fact that teachers don't fully understand learning code".
And this might well be the crux of the problems behind the new curriculum.
Another skills gap
Much like concerns over IT skills in the technology industry, there is an anxiety that the education sector also lacks the necessary skills and resources to teach the new curriculum.
The ATL believes the volume of technical expertise needed is simply not available across England's education system. "There just aren't the people in the schools at the moment with these skills," Gregory declared. "[Schools] can't just magic teachers out of the air."
Rather than rush out a curriculum to the unprepared education sector, Gregory said the ATL would rather the government had a slower implementation timetable and took measures to ensure the necessary resources and skillsets were in place before rolling out the major changes.
Neatham agrees with these concerns: "If you've never written a line of code, you can find it intimidating."
But she goes on to add that teachers should see the curriculum changes as an opportunity to bolster their own digital skills, rather than just a challenge to overcome: "Curriculum action will force teachers to look at coding as a critical skill for themselves as well – teachers may find that they love it."
Ctrl + Alt + Educate
With this in mind several initiatives and organisations are taking action to address the need for teachers to understand how to teach code in a way that can be easily digested throughout the stages of primary and secondary education.
Barefoot Computing, run by The Chartered Institute for IT, is one such program which uses workshops to equip teachers with the basic computer science subject knowledge and the confidence to begin teaching the coding covered in the curriculum.
Pat Hughes, project leader at Barefoot Computing, told V3 that the programme is designed to demystify the perceived complexity behind coding. “Computer science isn’t rocket science,” he said.
Hughes said a lot of support has been coming from the IT industry to achieve this goal: “Many companies have lobbied for and are willing to support change.”
He explained that programs such as Barefoot Computing give companies the scope to support the development of digital skills at a grassroots level, describing it as “giving people within the industry an opportunity to make a difference”.
BT, which runs its own graduate and apprentice training programs, is a key supporter and partner to Barefoot Computing.
The government has earmarked a £500,000 fund to pay for expert training to educate teachers in software coding, further demonstrating its commitment to compulsory coding.
Without a doubt the move to teach coding in schools is significant, and while its ramifications might not be felt in the education and technology sectors for some time, it should alleviate some of the long-term concerns over the UK's IT skills gap.
Of course, this ultimately raises the question: who teaches the people who teach the teachers?
And, yep, it'll run Android rather than RiscOS
US engineering giant's cost-cutting outsourcing plan is on the rocks, according to insiders
HP Envy X2 laptop only affordable if you've got loadsamoney
Counterfeit code-signing certificates enabling hackers to hide malware being sold by cyber criminals
Certificates can be used as part of layered obfuscation to evade detection by anti-virus software