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Not Enough Teachers Will Know Code By September

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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Several private sector initiatives are trying to make up for the lack of teacher training

A new curriculum brings coding into primary schools in September – and it looks as if teachers won’t be able to cope.

More than 130,000 primary school teachers still don’t feel confident enough to teach children how to code, according to a survey by Ocado Technology. Ocado has launched some resources to help, under the name Code For Life, while BT is supporting an initiative called Barefoot Computing, in a bid to make good the skills shortfall, and Microsoft is also offering to help.

The logo for Rapid Router, a free Key Stage 1 and lower Key Stage 2 teaching resource and engaging web-appNew curriculum

Schools in the UK are preparing for the introduction of a new curriculum in September that will place a lot more emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects, and replace ICT with Computing.

It’s the first time that computing has been introduced to primary schools as a subject, and the new programme will challenge both schoolchildren and their teachers, since this approach has never been tested in the UK.

Under the new curriculum, kids as young as five will be taught how to create and debug simple programs, as well as stay safe online. Older students will have to understand several key algorithms, including those for searching and sorting, and know how to use two or more programming languages.

The new curriculum was designed to fight the shortage of IT professionals in the UK, which could have a negative impact on the future of the country. However, replacing the old system is proving more challenging than previously thought, and the problem is not pupils, but teachers.

Teaching teachers

With only six weeks left until the new curriculum comes into effect, Ocado’s poll of 250 English primary school teachers revealed that 73 percent feel they have not been given the necessary resources – for example, access to hardware and training – to teach the new curriculum.

In response, Ocado Technology, the company behind the Ocado.com grocery shopping network, has created Code for Life – an initiative to help equip every child in the country with digital skills.

Code for Life is built around Rapid Router, a free Key Stage 1 and lower Key Stage 2 online teaching resource that includes an engaging web app accompanied by lesson plans, activity guides and instructional videos. It will be available online from 1st September.

Rapid Router has been developed in partnership with teachers and tested by over 150 pupils. It will provide a seamless transition from Blockly, an easy-to-use visual programming language made especially for kids, to Python, with the relevant Key Stage 2 extension available later in the academic year.

Over the next couple of years the initiative will be expanded to support pupils throughout their school career, from age five to 16 and beyond. So far, Ocado Technology employees have volunteered more than 400 hours to the creation of the Rapid Router.

“As a technology company at its core, Ocado relies on recruiting a constant stream of the brightest and best software engineers and other IT specialists to fuel its continued growth and disruptive innovation,” said Paul Clarke, director of Technology at Ocado.

“We wanted to find a way to give something back by investing in the next generation of computer scientists, while hopefully increasing the number of girls selecting technology subjects.”

With a little help from my friends

It’s not the first initiative into the fray. Microsoft got there quickest, offering free study materials to around 160,000 primary teachers as part of the “First Class Computing” initiative, which has been distributing free teaching materials since January. These include a free 51-page booklet and a CD with additional resources, featuring modules on programming, networks, communication and computational thinking.

And earlier this month, BT announced a similar initiative called the Barefoot Computing Project, focused around ScratchJr – a basic programming language developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The Barefoot Computing Project is aimed at primary school teachers with no previous computer science training. The company plans to hold 800 free training events across England to equip school staff with the skills and knowledge needed to incorporate the new curriculum into their lessons.

The Barefoot Computing Project is supported by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, and funded by the Department for Education.

There’s also Code Club Pro, a programme launched by the government and part-funded by Google, which aims to train 4,500 primary school teachers by the end of this year, and 20,000 by 2016. We should note that training provided by Code Club Pro, although subsidised, is not completely free.

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