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Eric Schmidt is Flabbergasted

Eric Schmidt, former CEO and current chairman of Google [wikipedia] gave this years’ MacTaggart Lecture at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival. His comments relating to technology and education in the UK have been widely reported, for example the following from The Guardian:

"I was flabbergasted to learn that today computer science isn’t even taught as standard in UK schools," he said. "Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it’s made."

Here’s the quote in context from a transcript of the speech:

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.  Even worse, both sides seem to denigrate the other – to use what I’m told is the local vernacular, you’re either a ‘luvvy’ or a ‘boffin’.

To change that you need to start at the beginning with education.  We need to reignite children’s passion for science, engineering and maths.  In the 1980’s the BBC not only broadcast programming for kids about coding, but (in partnership with Acorn) shipped over a million BBC Micro computers into schools and homes.  That was a fabulous initiative, but it’s long gone.  I was flabbergasted to learn that today computer science isn’t even taught as 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 computing heritage.

I’ve been struck by a similar sentiment on my journey into teaching. The way I’ve described this in the past has been through analogy: imagine a world where we taught English without teaching students to write. Think about that for a moment, how would you learn to be “clear, coherent and accurate in spoken and written communication” without being able to write and learn through the process of writing?

The full transcript and video of the MacTaggart lecture are available on paidContent.

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