BT delivers coding software to UK classrooms

Telco is committed to "developing the brightest minds in IT and technology"

BT and Barefoot Computing Project is giving teachers and pupils free computer science resources to plug the funding gap.

The telco is giving away an application that develops five to seven-year-olds' coding skills to create interactive stories and games ahead of the ICT curriculum overhaul in September.

Dr Tim Whitley, managing director of research and innovation at BT, said: "This new application has been specifically designed to engage young children in learning the basics of computer programming in a fun and interactive way. We believe ScratchJr will act as the first stepping stone towards encouraging children to choose an exciting career in IT and technology later in life."

The software is new to the UK and was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Primary teachers were invited to BT's headquarters to see the new software and learn how to incorporate the computing curriculum into their lessons in a way that will equip pupils with skills needed for the technology sector. It is the first of 800 free workshops that will take place across UK schools until May next year.

Whitley added: "We're focused on developing the brightest minds in IT and technology and encouraging them to pursue it as a career. It's vital that IT and coding skills are introduced to children at an early age."

The project, which is led by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, is funded by the Department for Education, which has put £3 million into training schemes for computer science teacher-training.

Lack of resources

Despite this funding boost, schools have expressed concerns over teaching resources.

In September schools will have to teach children aged five to 16 computer science courses that focus on coding, algorithms and how computers function, as opposed to the traditional ICT syllabus which taught use of applications like Microsoft Excel and Word. Schools will have had a year to prepare for this shift, however many teachers feel they are inadequately trained to teach more complex computer theory.

Sunaina Shori, ICT head at Ruislip High School in London, told ComputerworldUK: "There is a big skills gaps and it has been left to teachers and headteachers."

Shori said that although she was lucky to have been sent on a course to learn Python, many teachers are panicking over how to teach code. With a gap in training funds to accommodate the new program, schools have taken to crowdfunding resources.

The CAS Network of Teaching Excellence in Computer Science helps teachers to pool their resources at networking events between schools in local areas.

Raspberry Pi

Help from businesses who want to secure their future talent pool is crucial, Shori said. Her school was given 10 Raspberry Pi computers by Portcullis Computer Security last week.

Portcullis is encouraging children in the Hillingdon borough to write code as part of a competition to present the most innovative Raspberry Pi-based product to help the community.

The IT security firm wants to recruit potential ethical hackers starting from a young age.

A lack of computing talent is putting the UK at a disadvantage in terms of business, particularly in the IT security sector, according to Portcullis.

The UK security talent pool is limited, and Portcullis' commercial director Tim Anderson told ComputerworldUK that he is keen to speak to pupils about career options in the industry.

He said: "There is a definite gap in the education sector with students missing the fundamentals of coding and programming. A lot of young people think they are good with computers but when it comes to understanding how computers work, we have a lot of passengers and not enough mechanics. Many kids lack the skills to do anything tangible with what they know."

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