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Think of the children? I just did, says Dom Connor

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Appeal The venerable Royal Institution - of Christmas Lectures fame - has at last got funding to do something about Computer Science education in the UK.

Starting this autumn, schools will get to nominate kids who don’t just read the words but hear the music of algorithms, logic, complexity in time and space, data structures and the Internet of Things (which apparently is not a cheap horror movie) and whatever else we can cram into their innocent young minds.

Did I say "we"?

I’m going to be teaching at least one of the master classes, possibly “Cruel and Unusual Logic”. If the prospect of your child’s education being in the hands of a hack from el Reg horrifies you, then there is a simple solution.

If you are as smart as you think you are and reckon you can put together a 2½ hour session on CompSci that will challenge and inspire the next generation, then get in contact with me to talk it through.

We won’t just dump you in front of 25 kids and say “talk”, you will get support in delivering the lecture, including working out what you can reasonably expect smart 14 year olds to understand. If you want to have a go, I’m at CruelAndUnusualLogic@Gmail.com

You don’t have to explain something from the syllabus: the idea is to go beyond it both broader and more deeply. The only parameters are that it is interesting and in some sense “hands on”, with equipment, computers or bits of wire - the kids get enough “chalk and talk” already.

We’re not doing coding, which will shock those of you who know what a programming bigot I am, but the brutal reality is that the students will be coming from N different schools and there are 2N or 3N languages used in UK schools - everything from Scratch to Clojure, via Pascal. By the time you explained to the VB kids about the joy of semicolons in Java, you’d have used up half your time, and each class has to be reasonably standalone: so anything you we want to explain has to be easily started, even it is hard to completely master.

Although kids have to be physically dragged away from using tech, this has not translated into enthusiasm for the subject with less than 5,000 A levels taken last year (out of a total of 1.4 million). So, what we’re going to do is show not only that CompSci can be fun, but that it isn’t just mastering syntax, it is intellectually as stimulating as the other sciences and a lot more interesting than lesser subjects.

Although GCHQ has studiously ignored my request for them to talk to the sort of kids they’d most like to employ one day, I am in discussions with chip designers, high frequency traders, games coders, roboteers, compiler writers as well as teachers and university academics.

The half million quid from Causeway Technologies is making all this possible, including having someone full time to organise it all - and that'll be a serious job. We are after all going to upgrade 10,000 nine to eighteen year olds over the next five years … and not just in London.

The RI’s big posh building in Mayfair, where the Xmas lectures come from and where as a member you can go and see the likes of Terry Pratchett, Richard Dawkins, Richard Attenborough, Henry Winston et al talk throughout the year is great - but in London. Apparently people live outside the Metropolis, no one has explained to me why but it’s true, so be clear that we’re doing this all over the UK (or Dis-UK or whatever it gets called if Scotland wanders off).

That of course means we need a few more places to hold the masterclasses as well, preferably with a few dozen computers in them, so if you have one of those idle on Saturday mornings you know where I am.

Lest you think Causeway are frittering money on some harebrained computer tomfoolery when what old Blighty needs is more proper hard-sums types, you should know that the RI has been doing Maths as well as Engineering masterclasses for years.

I hope some of you Reg reader experts will feel able to plunge in and lend a hand. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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