Royal Society Computing in Schools

Looking at the Royal Society’s new investigation, there seem to be a few points that are relevant to Scotland in particular:

1. VB?!

Why does the Scottish Qualifications Authority (and why do Scottish schools) have a bizarre obsession with the archaic Visual Basic 6?  I was nine when that came out in 1998! .NET’s fine, but it’s just silly to pretend that cost is the main reason for using a 12-year old package. For one thing, newer versions of VB are free - it’s not like schools need the enterprise versions.
What’s worse? When I was on placement, one teacher told me – and the pupils – that this was object-oriented programming (cue ooh-aah…). Um, no, it isn’t.
*bangs head against 1990s wall*

2. Scratch? Erm… Java?
Just cos you can buy official hats and t-shirts doesn’t mean much for Scratch’s efficacy. It’s not that there’s anything really bad, and it’s great for engaging young people, but one teacher suggested using it for Standard Grade and Higher courses. Given the aforementioned VB requirements, that seems a bit silly anyway. But wouldn’t it be ironic if VB was replaced, finally… with a media tool? I have great respect for Scratch, but you just can’t use it to teach some of the “proper” programming in the higher. And it’s not object oriented.
If we want something that works right through school, what’s the problem with Java? Why does everyone (okay, so both sets of teachers I worked with last year) seem to think it’s so hard? There’s Greenfoot, which works for kids. I looked into using JAKE with school-level kids too. According to Kölling and Henriksen,

Greenfoot is aimed at programming at high school level or above (from age 13 up). It can be effectively used at school level, college and university, and even in advanced university courses.

The students at high school levels might not be as commited to programming and we have tried to create an interesting program that should engage the student. In order to do this, we acknowledge that students have different opinions on what might be interesting. Hence, we sought to create a flexible environment that could be customised for the specific group of students. Furthermore, in the design of greenfoot we considered the different learning styles of students.
Since Java fits neatly into further courses, why not use it and save the big transition between Scratch’s jigsaw blocks and (say) BlueJ’s class diagrams?

3. Is computing a subject?
Point 1 of the Royal Society’s call asks,

1. Is computing a discipline, in the same way that mathematics, physics and chemistry are?

Personally, I’d say yes, but that’s not the point. Do schools really consider computing as the same sort of subject, or is it just a kind of IT-ish, businessy thing?

Point 8 of that call asks,

8. Who is teaching computing, and what qualifications do they hold?

Both of these are things I thought about when I was asked to work for a while in one particular school. That school had no computing department. Fancy taking Standard Grade computing? Sorry. What about admin? Or Accounts? First and second-year ICT were taught by business teachers. Doesn’t exactly do much for the standing of computing as a subject in it’s own right. Ironically, the purpose of that particular school project was to promote computing as a career. Um, yes…
So basically, we have schools that don’t actually teach computing. In those that do, students use a “vintage” Visual Basic. And objects-first? Oh no, that’s too difficult.

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