Braben: "Every kid I talk to says ICT is dull"

Frontier boss working on Raspberry Pi - a portable programming device to help fix "backfired" digital curriculum

Elite creator David Braben has strongly criticised the current digital national curriculum in the UK.

Referring to his own self-taught programming skills on Acorn Electrons and BBC Micros, he worried that today "the equivalent kid to me would probably hate ICT and therefore probably be put off computers for good."

He told the Learning Without Frontiers conference in London today that "every kid I talk to says ICT is dull. They hate it. The majority is learning how to use certain MS tools and how to find the on and off switch.

"That is such a far distance from what I'm talking about, where self-driven learning happens. I think it was very well meaning to try and make ICT universal but I think it's backfired." He called for computer science teaching that "actually taught programming and all the things which are exciting about it."

The problem was particular acute, he felt, for those children who could not use PCs at home. "For those who didn't have access to computers it just confirmed the fact that they weren't interested."

With this in mind, Frontier Developments had created a self-contained miniature computer prototype which pupils could take home with them.

Known as the Raspberry Pi and potentially being trialled later this year, the device is "Really really small, a complete computer, everything you need to program. It can run all sorts of things from project canvas to programming language. It's very, very cheap to distribute."

The unit includes wireless networking, Linux, an ARM processor, an HDMI output and is "utterly indestructible."

The scheme is a not for profit venture which Braben felt could feasibly become widespread. "Imagine if everyone had one at home. It could be something that could be used as a vehicle, because the important thing is to have the feeling of ownership when you get home."

Braben also argued that games themselves could be an effective learning tool. "Games are a great weapon for education. Have you ever heard a kid say 'can I stop playing Mario and go do my homework?' You have to tear them off it. It's a very, very powerful thing.

"There's the huge feeling of progression, there's a lack of criticism or failure, there's huge easy steps. What games do is these very small incremental steps, each of which is motivational for that reason kids love them, love the worlds represent in them. Ironically they are doing those days and weeks of hard slog. And dare I say it, they can often learn in the process, so long as it's secret."

Key to adopting such methods, he felt, were "great teachers."

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Latest comments (14)

Daniel Vardy Studying HND IT, De Montfort University7 years ago
IT taught in schools is sub-standard, its got more to do with business than computing. I have to agree that all you learn is how to use MS tools. Generally they do not nurture the people who are really into IT and they have to go onto other places such as college to learn what they want to.
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Mark Bridges Human 7 years ago
When i went to school we had BBC Micros in the IT class room, instead of learning basic programming. We learnt to use View, which was a word processor. I dont think things have really progressed that much, which is a same.
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John Cook Senior Partner, Bad Management7 years ago
Respect to DB - sounds like an amazing idea - hope the trials go well and it takes off.....
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Show all comments (14)
Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up7 years ago
With the recent changes to council budgets, its exactly these kind of courses that are being cut from the curriculum. Theres nothing in them that you cant find out yourself through using computers anyway. I know a few teachers at my partners school who have lost their jobs as a result of the cuts in these areas. A shame, but its just not relevant learning. Something much more exciting would be good. Maths taught in a game environment would Im sure go down a storm with the kids and increase the uptake in these sorts of subjects.
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robert troughton Managing Director, Coconut Lizard7 years ago
Actually, my son started GCSE's this year. Speaking to the ICT teacher I learnt that the curriculum changed significantly this year - introducing things like Facebook... "did you know that 60% of companies now hire through Facebook?", said his IT teacher... I very quickly realised that IT teachers haven't changed in 25 years either... and... teaching how to use social networks at school?!?!? Are they joking??? They might as well try to teach the kids how to play Call of Duty...

I don't really believe that programming should be included too much in ICT... my son's school teaches a variety of tools that lie outside of the curriculum as well - Google Sketchup, for example. If they were introduced to things like Unity and 3DS Max, maybe with just for a month, it could spur them on to learn more about these at home. Putting that seed into children's minds where they will go off and learn about something themselves in their spare time - rather than just sitting home playing World of Warcraft - could help to craft the next-generation of developers...
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Andreas Firnigl senior designer, Cohort Studios Ltd7 years ago
Schools should get kids to use the LBP2 editor. I remember vividly the day I picked up SEUCK for my brothers c64. If you give children something that can spark their imagination, and enough guidance and the appropriate tools to actually be creative, they will blow you away with their ingenuity.
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David Wilson7 years ago
Braben may have a point but I am beginning to think he can only see the world in his own image. Programming is dull to most people, people who consume games are happy to do just that, they are not as interested in computer science as he is. I like food but don't want to be a chef. I feel there is a general lack of respect for education by game professionals ( possibly a backlash from education's lack of understanding that games is a real job) that somehow teaching people is the easy bit. The ability to code does not mean you can teach it well and that students will be any more interested in it.

Games could be a weapon (bad choice of word) for education but the Mario metaphor is ridiculous because what have you learned at the end of this experience? Commercial Games exist to gratify us which is why we invest in the experience. We don't choose to learn what we are told at school and making us jump through virtual hoops for it won't make us buy in either. It is the type of over simplistic exploration from industry figures i find irritating and makes me feel they don't actually understand their own medium as well as they should.
Game design has a lot to offer education but this does not mean I have to reach for my ipad and the dummies guide to objective C to improve the experience for the learner. The principles which guide good design should be employed into the way we learn through understanding how to create positive goal orientated learning experiences but we should not reduce the effectiveness of games to the medium they are delivered on. If we do this then the issue will be mugged by price and support. I am sure David can fix his computer problems himself or has a team of people on hand to do it but the experience I have had with educators on the front line would suggest this is not the case for them.

It is great that he is highlighting that games has more to offer education hopefully the right people get that bit of the message. I agree with most of what has been said in the comments section about the relevance of ICT. I believe that is should be weaved into learning teaching and assessment in all subjects where it adds value but it does not have to anything to do with games though . A problem with this though not every pupil has a computer or internet connection so this is pretty impossible to implement. I am not sure why anyone needs to learn facebook though?
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Anthony Hart-Jones Narrative Designer, Freya's Aett7 years ago
Personally, I like the idea. When I was at school, the BBC B was still in its heyday. Even when I got to Grammar School, we had BBC BASIC emulated on the network. We were taught word-processing by the English department, not IT. IT was about doing things, making things. It was a sub-category of Design and Technology, so we thought that way about it.

In the end, I think DB is doing what he can to fix a problem he had identified. It is a little bit of a strange project and a strange way of going about things, but I salute the man for trying. Of course, I was one of the kids who got into game-development through BBC BASIC, so maybe it is easier for me to see it from his perspective.
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Kieren Bloomfield Software Engineer, EA Sports7 years ago
When I was at school, programming was taught in maths classes. I remember doing projects in BBC BASIC and LOGO (wow, who remembers that?). The sad fact is that IT classes are for learning office skills such as learning to use a word processor and spreadsheet properly. It's not exciting but it is very relevant. Not every kid needs to learn how to program it shouldn't be part of a compulsory curriculum.
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ICT could have mod related opportunities. Allowing for some final end result and consequence applied
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Luke Child7 years ago
Being someone whom has only recently (2 years) finished school I can say that compared to what I see from you older folk (No offense intended :) ) the education given seems lackluster compared to that you had received. As for my own experience, the only things that were taught to me during secondary school/high was your basic word applications etc... the furthest we had ever gone was to using Dreamweaver and Fireworks, not even the slightest touch on flash or any application that involved programming; just for an insight into games development though we made a small game using Microsoft Powerpoint, very sophisticated!
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Compared to computers of old, I bet todays firefox browser is an amazing GUI program in itself
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Eddie In Project Manager, Ndoors7 years ago
The challenge for education is that there is a huge process to get something from "this might be good for the kids" to implementation in the National Curriculum. The issue is complicated further when the people who make decisions on the Curriculum are humanities scholars who possess a limited view of technology and how it actually impacts society.

For example, we here are busy wrapping our minds around the actual power of Facebook and how it will leverage the experiences we create in our games whereas the Education experts do not. They may read about the hype and get that social networks are changing things but not sure exactly how - hence the misguided lessons on how to use Facebook in the classroom.

There is also a time lag issue - I remember my teacher was taught to use punch cards and when she had to teach me the world was on C and Assembly. Kudos to DB for bringing perspective to the issue of ICT education but I find it highly unlikely that our teachers will be able to keep up with the new software, methods and paradigms to keep practical ICT relevant - with or without the Raspberry Pi. How feasible is it to expect our educators (especially the older ones) to go from java to flash to Unity WHILE teaching their students?

In the business world (and in a lot of business schools) they bring in actual experts from the private sector to teach this stuff. It may not even have to be professionals - they could bring in college/uni students to teach elementary web design, basic programs to do your homework, simple databases in pre-defined templates etc. That way our poor teachers can focus on what they were actually TRAINED to do... teaching maths, sciences, arts and humanities.
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James Dobrowski Head of Support, Geomerics7 years ago
I'd say that the issues with lackluster and reasonably unvaried ICT education has been around for a fair while now. I finished high-school 10 years ago, and I remember my GCSE ICT course focussing almost entirely on the MS Office suite. These are useful tools that almost everyone in the work environment will have some contact with, so I think that they should be part of an ICT qualification. However, at GCSE level I believe that teaching an increased variety of topics on an ICT course is essential.

Though I wouldn't heavily introduce programming, web development technologies, 3D authoring tools, or any other specific technology, I agree with Robert that providing at least a little bit of experience in these areas will allow children to self-educate in areas they find interesting, and better prepare them for selecting college / uni courses. Eddie's idea of bringing in external college / uni students with relevant experience would be key to making this work at an acceptable cost.

On the idea of Facebook in the class room - if it's using Facebook as a method of teaching the evolution of the web, or new online business models, great. If it's teaching how to construct a more enticing party invite.. just no.
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