Thoughts on ‘Year of Code’ and its director, Lottie Dexter

The director of Year of Code, Lottie Dexter, has received a lot of hate in the past couple of days since her interview with the renowned Jeremy Paxman on Wednesday (05-02-2014), but lets take a step back and look at what exactly is ‘Year of Code’ and whether we even need it.

Year of Code is a government backed initiative to “celebrate technology and encourage more people to start writing code” in 2014. The reason they have chosen this year is because in September, “coding will be introduced to the school timetable for every child aged 5-16 years old, making the UK the first major G20 economy in the world to implement this on a national level”; this is being done under the pretense that “Knowing how to code is crucial for so many people for getting jobs in the new economy”.

Thought I'd take the opportunity to use this stock photo to lighten the mood of a serious post.

Thought I’d take the opportunity to use this stock photo to lighten the mood of a serious post.

From my point of view, and I must stress that phrase, I do not see how knowing how to code will make you more employable, I simply don’t. Unless you’re applying for a job that requires coding knowledge, it’s no more useful than being a good plumber as a software developer, sure it’s a nice skill to have, but they won’t choose you over the guy with the MComp.
I think it is important, however, that when secondary school pupils opt for specific subjects in their final 2/3 years, they are given a choice between IT and computing. IT is the one that will make you more employable in almost every job; but if someone wants to learn to code, then taking IT will probably bore them out of their mind.

So my amendments to the program would be the following

  • Introduce programming at around the age of 7/8 but not make it an independent subject. Integrate into mathematics/IT as a module.
  • At lower secondary school level, keep the same kind of integration but increase how much is covered.
  • At the end of secondary school (13/14) give the option to take programming as a full independent subject either instead of or alongside typical ICT, though instead of would be better.

Now, onto the topic of Lottie Dexter and whether she is ‘fit for purpose.’

Dexter is the director for not only the Year of Code initiative, but also the Million Jobs campaign and before that she was the Communications Manager at the Centre for Social Justice, so it’s clear that she has experience in running projects. If you didn’t watch the video of the interview I linked above, check it out now before continuing to read.

There are two main areas of criticism Dexter has come under, the first being that she doesn’t know how to code and the second being she has a lot of connections with the conservative party – no you read that correctly, she’s criticised for having connections in a party of which she supports.

Just to mix things up, lets look at the second one first. A quote from Political Scrapbook,

“What Lottie Dexter lacks in obvious qualifications for the role she certainly makes up for with impeccable Tory connections. She worked as communications manager for the think tank founded by Iain Duncan Smith…”

If you think that people only get jobs because of their skills and qualifications you are horrifically naive; as the saying goes, “It’s not what you know, but who you know”. I’m not saying the typical “Oh everyone does it so it’s okay” because I’m completely against that kind of attitude, but why are we pointing it out with her? Why are we specifically pointing out her tory connections to discredit her? She studied politics at university and is an activist for the conservative party, I’d be mind blown if she didn’t have tory connections.

Moreover, why are you saying that her working for Iain Duncan Smith is a bad thing? Guilty by affiliation?

However, I would like to look more closely at her lack of knowledge in programming. In the interview with Paxman, Dexter reveals that she does not actually know how to program but will be using this year to acquire that knowledge. However, a few seconds later she claims that it will take teachers around a day to learn to program so that they can go onto teach that knowledge to children – again, you read that correctly…a day! Well Lottie, I think this point is pretty valid,

To say that people can learn code in a day is absolutely absurd! You could MAYBE learn to use HTML in day and it would be god awful quality (not to mention useless on its own), or MAYBE learn another language in a day provided you already know how to program, but that kind of defeats the point. I don’t think this knowledge is valid for her position, but if she thinks it can be done in a day, why hasn’t she already? Though since she doesn’t know how to code, it is likely that she was fed that information by an advisor.

As a director, even for this project, it is not important to know how to code; what is important, however, is project management and given her previous positions it appears as though she has that. What I do find difficult to believe is that there wasn’t someone equally qualified, but also with programming knowledge. I don’t think it would make them better at their job, but it would certainly make people feel more comfortable with them; I mean, look at how people have reacted to Dexter. The only thing that really concerns me is that she appears to be seriously ill-informed by her advisors. These are the people who would relay information and ideas between management and tech-savvy people and it is them who clearly seem to be incompetent.

To conclude, I do not for a second think we should be criticising Lottie Dexter, at least not for not understanding code. The problem here lies with the how the project will integrate programming into school timetables, that is where I think they will screw up…and of course the advisors are clearly awful.

Food for thought – given how long ago our little technological boom started, isn’t this all coming a little late? I’m not saying we should just give up, just surprised it’s taken this long.

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts on ‘Year of Code’ and its director, Lottie Dexter

  1. Weather’s a bit rough in this teacup. The initiative and Lottie mean well and it’s unlikely to scar our youngsters for life. Naive and poorly prepared spokesperson, yes, built on unsubstantiated shallow premises, yes, but rein in the hounds, dear technophiles, this isn’t the end of education as we know it.

    A generation ago schoolkids were given a gentle introduction to programming by steering a motorized pen-wielding turtle that responded to commands using the Logo language. Great fun but not very practical in the average classroom – so the device was binned and a virtual ‘screen turtle’ put in its stead, which reduced the charm considerably but at least no-one had to wait for their turn any more or spread out large expensive sheets of paper. For a number of pupils Logo was heady stuff – an early taste of the joys of commanding an electronic vassal that obeys your bidding. It kicked off a fascination which set them on a journey to discover programming. Isn’t that what we need – to demonstrate to young minds that they can control the machines themselves – and let it inspire those it appeals to. Essential job skill for all, my eye. Minor module in the core curriculum, that’s more like it.

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