The danger your children escaped! Technology!

At school, I was largely a goodie-two-shoes – however, that is to say – I was was aware of the line, and however close I was to it, I did my best to ensure I wasn’t caught crossing it. I’m dubiously proud to say that I never got a detention.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t always successful, and after a particularly creative, episode of circumventing content filtering systems so I could access my webmail (which for some reason was blocked), my parents and I were called into the headmasters office.

Tut. Bad Tim.

After I explained how I simply wanted a way to check my webmail account every day at school during my breaks, the headmaster suggested I might be “addicted” to technology.

Me, being a being a hot blooded young man, retorted:

I’m not sure comparing an interest in technology to illegal substance abuse is appropriate to this conversation.

Symbolism?
Symbolism?

In hindsight, whilst that clearly wasn’t the way in which they intended the word, I feel this speaks volumes.

During those years of school, I spent many waking hours playing with technology. I certainly spent more time playing with technology than any other single activity, but I wasn’t “addicted” – I was interested, and thirsty to learn.

For inexplicable reasons, there were absolutely no academic opportunities for me to develop these skills, and so using Portable Firefox and Tor to bypass content filtering and access Gmail in my spare time, seemed a relatively productive.

Suggesting I was “addicted” to computers, was just as shortsighted as it would have been to suggest that my more academically studious classmates were “addicted” to revision.

Whilst my punishment (downgraded from suspension to effectively being banned from using any computer in the school), let them keep the perception that content filters work, and stopped me breaking their AUP on a daily basis, they failed to recognise the problem – that they were just years away from being asked why they did not teach “app development”, or indeed any technology subject.

Essentially they were sealing the middle fingered handshake goodbye from me as just a year later, I moved schools, and 18 months later was working in industry.

I hope that in the future, my grandchildren won’t be accused of “being addicted” to their “Raspberry Pi 3000″ – simply because they’re fascinated by how it all works. Please help us make that future.

Bright New Future for UK ICT Classes?

In response to School ICT to be replaced by computer science programme and Michael Gove to scrap ‘boring’ IT lessons

I’m very pleased with Michael Gove’s announcement on scrapping the existing ‘Information and Communication Technology’ curriculum. I think this is a great  step forward for young people and technology, and has the potential to increase interest in what is a vital area of skills for British youth.

With the launch of  ‘Code Year’ and the Guardian’s campaign to address issues with digital literacy, it is good to see the government giving this part of the curriculum the attention it both needs and deserves. Indeed this initiative comes at a great time and with the Raspberry Pi – an affordable British learning computer for exciting young techies – becoming available soon.

With all that said, I am still somewhat nervous about some of the details of this announcement.  The omission of a reference to open source software and solutions is disheartening, especially whilst referring to “an open-source world” and a changing and open curriculum. I hope that the Department for Education is aware of the potential positive benefits of looking at open alternatives to proprietary ‘solutions’.

I do welcome the premise and direction. Mr Gove is exactly right when he asks us to:

“Imagine the dramatic change which could be possible in just a few years, once we remove the roadblock of the existing ICT curriculum. Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch.”

As someone who now works in the technology sector but who suffered from poor ICT tuition at school, I hope that the government is able to deliver on these proposals; it is something that students in the UK deserve, that the economy of the UK will benefit from and something that has been ignored for too long. I have been campaigning for changes like these since 2009, they are very welcome and I am keen to see how they are implemented and developed.

Tim Dobson
@tdobson

Education Spokesperson
Pirate Party UK

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Press contact: campaigns@pirateparty.org.uk / 0161 987 7880

First posted on the Pirate Party UK Website

Remembering being taught Applied ICT at A Level

I recently noticed that I got quoted in The Information Age, at the beginning of the year due to the UK Cyber Security Challenge.:

“Tim Dobson, a 20-year-old university student, does not remember his IT A-level course fondly. “In one lesson, our teacher asked us how to find the YouTube website,” he recalled.

Dobson added that he had always been interested in pursuing an IT career, but it “would have helped if the course was not such a failure”. He dropped out of his course before completing it.”

It’s funny, I don’t remember being a university student, but sadly, that anecdote about YouTube is correct.

Back in 2007, I was in an Applied ICT (Double award) A level lesson. These were one of the most dull things I’ve encountered in my life.

The class was working and suddenly the tutor, who’s also working on a computer asks the room,

What’s the address of ‘youtube’?

Sadly, no one responded

*ahem*. Let me just google that for you

or

Shouldn’t you be teaching us that?

We were too stunned.

In the end, someone just muttered “youtube.com” across the room.

Several years on, I asked one of my classmates whether they remembered those lessons:

Unfortunately I do… I loved wasting 2 years of my life that I’ll never get back.

Which is pretty much how I feel about it.

There were positive reactions to such a negative experience – my involvement with the free software community, the formation of DFEY and the building of direct links with technology companies in the area would never have happened if I hadn’t had such a bad experience.

I can’t help but wonder, however, what would have happened if it hadn’t been the way it was – contrary to the article above, despite some attempts by the college to remove me, I completed the course.

To this day, I’m still very proud to have passed an A Level in Applied ICT, at Grade E.

~

Post Script: It looks like almost everyone has at least one story like this. Here is my friend Josh Pickett’s!

What is the most useful thing you will do towards a future career when you’re young?

And the ten minutes striking up a conversation with that strange kid in homeroom sometimes matters more than every other part of high school combined.

This XKCD cartoon strangely captures essence of most of my complaints with the way ICT and technical subjects are taught in schools.

For me, it was a extensive number of weekends trying to make various different project work and multiple evenings getting to know the right people in the tech industry – thanks to the vibrant north west technical communities.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that school/college/university is completely useless if you want to go into tech – being able to articulate oneself in writing is a particularly crucial skill which is a lot tougher learning elsewhere but as far as I’m concerned any technical skills taught are unlikely to ultimately be be as useful as that one bit of hacking you did when you were bored a few years previously.