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Schoolkids learn coding at GCSE level in curriculum trial

'Basic skill for 21st century human beings' - Willetts

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Teenagers could be taught to write their own software programs at GCSE as part of a major overhaul of the UK schools' IT curriculum.

The new approach is being trialled with 100 students in a two-term experiment that will be rolled out across the UK if it proves successful.

Launching the “Behind the Screen” scheme, science minister David Willetts told the British Science Festival in Bradford yesterday that the idea has been in development since 2010.

Willetts said: "[It] will transform the IT curriculum away from computer literacy, which we believe many young people can do earlier, towards instead how they develop software and computational principles; how they can create their own programs."

The schools chosen are Manchester Grammar, Bradfield College, Reading, Park House School, Newbury, and Townley Grammar in Bexleyheath, Kent.

The British IT curriculum has been criticised for just teaching students to use software, rather than letting them make it. Google CEO Eric Schmidt has been one of its most notable recent critics, at the McTaggart lecture in Edinburgh last month:

"I was flabbergasted to learn that today computer science isn't even taught as a standard in UK schools. Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it's made. That is just throwing away your great computer heritage."

He told the TV execs gathered in Edinburgh: "Over the past century the UK has stopped nurturing its polymaths. There's been a drift to the humanities ... engineering and science aren't championed.

"In the 1980s the BBC not only broadcast programming for kids about coding, but (in partnership with Acorn) shipped over a million BBC Micro computers into homes and schools. That was a fabulous initiative, but it's long gone."

Take-up of IT qualifications has fallen in the past five years: a staggering 57 per cent decline between 2005 and 2010.

Willetts said programming would become one of the 21st century's most important skills:

"I want to see the ability to create software, to write programmes, that is one of the key functional skills for the 21st century, and young people going through school, college and university should have the opportunity to generate those skills." ®

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