Coding the New Latin III

For the first time in 20 years I did not make it to the BETT show. Given the developments last week in ICT for schools it seemed a little pointless, however I am grateful for those reporters who did and who produced extensive vox pops which I can now summarise.

The subject under debate was of course the reform of the ICT curriculum wherein the teaching of coding would be introduced. Vox populi (must get it right nowadays) was I suppose predictable. It divided neatly into two; those who knew what was going on and those that had no idea.

The technical types champed at the bit at the chance to do something meaty the others simply blinked and said something they hoped included enough plausible words to avoid anyone laughing ... these were mostly the ICT teachers.

Fine scrutiny (from the Latin scrutari which means to search through rubbish in the hope of finding something useful) produced a selection of words that would form one of those annoying cloud-link-clusters were: ‘i-pads’ (i-aliquatenus), ‘cost’ (sumptus), training’ (exercitatio), Microsoft (Parvus-Malacus), ‘targets’( target) , and ‘equality’ (aequus). Any half-decent educationalist could link those into a sentence that would past muster in the forum. Even Open Source got a mention from the vocal plebs since Magister Micheal Gove had thrown that red-herring into the mix in his reform announcement.

Yes I reckon we can convert most of our school ICT into Latin.

Coding in ‘Roman’ Times

Many years ago I taught at a school that had a thriving community of coders. Over the school’s entrance was a stone-carved extract from the founder’s bequest: “a small building with seates in yt”. It also had a Latin motto as all elite schools do but its disclosure would be a give away.

As well as rooms and seats they had a DEC-PDP mini computer, BBC Masters, a bunch of Spectrums, and some new-fangled PCs running DR-DOS and MS-DOS. Later they embraced Windows 3.1 and the rest is historia as they say.

Writing code, as the Raspberry (no Latin-the Romans did not eat berries) Pi project will make clear, requires only the most humble of resources and the free-est of software. Words like ‘up-to-date’, ‘latest’, ‘shiny’, ‘proprietary v open source’ mean nothing at all in this context.

In fact we need little more than we needed when we were actually taught Latin. An erudite tutor, a desk, something to read from and to scribe on sufficed.

Anyone with an ounce of brains will realise that this will not do. School ICT is about selling stuff. Hardware is about the upgrade cycle, software is about proprietary lock-in and ICT systems are about complex professionally maintained infrastructure.

Coding on the modern equivalent of clay tablets would wreck the industry. Is that what you want? Do you really want a generation of students who know how computers work, can make them do their bidding but don’t feel the need to command more computing power than was needed to land on the moon just to send a text? ... I don’t think so.

Computing is an academic pursuit … are we prepared to pay the price?


Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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