D J Adams is a passionate believer in the value of education at a time when computational literacy is low on government's educational agenda - at least from an action standpoint. I had been quietly listening to some of the things he was saying about Coder Dojo and Young Rewired State. Earlier in the week I tweeted that DJ and I would be recording a video on the topic. Coincidentally, Bob Evans, who runs comms at Oracle pointed me to this piece that discusses similar ongoing efforts in the US, supported by Oracle.
The parallels are immediately obvious although it does seem the US has had better success than the UK in getting technology topics that matter into the mainstream educational system.
As it turns out, my bandwidth is so crappy that DJ and I were not able to record a video and were reduced to the technology equivalent of baling wire and duct tape to record a phone conversation, which is shown below. Forgive the overall quality and sound levels. It really was a lash up.
There are some key points from the 20 minute conversationn that are well worth surfacing:
- DJ reported that the last CoderDojo he did in Manchester had people queuing up on a Sunday afternoon. 150 people attended. That's more than you'd get at a high profile and well advertised SAP InnoJam at SAP TechEd where there is a captive audience of thousands of developers. That speaks volumes to the creativity with which the volunteers put on different activities for all levels of expertise.
- DJ said that 900 people or there abouts turned up to the main YRS event in Birmingham. Again, incredible numbers. What makes these numbers even more astonishing is that the number of centers around the UK is quite small at 30.
- There is a clear demand among our next generation for learning, tools and technology.
- While there is a lot of fun involved in these efforts, the main focus of teaching computational thinking is never far from the activities that take place.
- It is too early to know whether some of the children are applying what they know to business scenarios but DJ reports that they are coming up with problems and solutions he would never have imagined. That's an exciting prospect.
I wanted to know how those children are approaching problem solving. We hear a lot about youngsters coming up with bright ideas but how is that manifesting itself? DJ charaterizes much of the action as collaborative with very little by way of obvious competition. That's a shift in what we normally see with coders and one that I welcome.
More heartening still is his observation that children are quickly transitioning into the role of mentor for those that are coming behind. This is a really crucial aspect of peer learning. I don't pretend to understand the dynamics but I wonder whether the growith of a Facebook generation and all that implies is having an impact?
Some of the major software companies - SAP, Oracle and Google stand out - are actively supporting these efforts. That is a net good and not without purpose. Getting the next generation aware of 'your' technology and the prospects for working with 'your' company is an effective way of finding good intern prospects.
However, I would be far more impressed to see sponsorship for these efforts also coming from Coca Cola, P&G, VW, Mercedes-Benz, Burberry and other high profile brands that are taking on advanced technologies for themselves.
I don't know any parent who doesn't value a good education but the existing systems only go so far. The emergence of these alternatives and adjuncts is something all of us should welcome and support.
We often hear companies bemoaning the competition for talent and yet I wonder what some of them do to grow their own. I know both Oracle and SAP have extensive and well funded programs including support for these ventures that extend all the way through to university education. But we need more support from more companies.
If this is a topic of interest to you then DJ provided me with a set of links that should prove valuable. Here you go:
YRS Hacks on Github (Aug 2013)
"Of course, I'm biased, but there's a really proud moment when Ashley (from Code for America, over as a "guest Mentor") talks about the "really advanced teams" (around 2m50s in) and focuses on Joseph who has written a structural and lexical analyser of Wikipedia content using a neural network that he built in the language "Go". Joseph's my son ;-)"
Disclosure: SAP and Oracle are premier partners at the time of writing.