Programming ability is the new digital divide: Berners-Lee
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Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee says all school students should be given some hands-on experience of programming, to provide a critical mass of enthusiastic and competent programmers to stem the current shortage of developers.
Perhaps more important, he says, this approach will promote a view of the computer as a machine that can be made to do anything its owner wants, rather than a domestic appliance “like a fridge”, performing certain fixed tasks.
There are two kinds of digital divide, Berners-Lee told the audience at a booked-out presentation in Wellington yesterday; the more familiar divide is between those who can afford a computer and internet access and those who can’t. Less talked of is the divide between those who can program and those whose computer “skills” are restricted to knowing how to work standard applications such as word processing and spreadsheets.
Lack of hands-on experience of the computer’s flexibility leaves the user at the mercy of “a bunch of companies who would love to be able to lock it down, so you can only run the applications that they allow; the ones you can get from their app-store,” Berners-Lee says.
A powerful fighter against this kind of restriction, he says, is author and blogger Cory Doctorow, who calls it “the war on general computation.”
The larger theme of openness was Berners-Lee’s central topic. This theme, as InternetNZ president Frank March pointed out, will be taken up by the NetHui conference organised by InternetNZ in July this year.
Berners-Lee explored openness as applied not only to the internet but to open access to information, to open – hence more efficient and accountable - government and to the development of program code. He explained open-source development to his audience, emphasising the potential of sharing code for rapid development, free of formal licensing and procurement processes. “Open source makes everything run very much faster; people talk about a web-year as equal to 2.6 [ordinary] years.”
He made only a glancing reference to patents, but many of his audience would have been conscious that the Patents Bill, with its exclusion of software, is now first on the Parliamentary Order Paper after the mammoth debate in reply to the Prime Minister’s opening statement.
Openness and the free (in both senses of the word) ethos were an early stimulus for use of the web, its inventor pointed out. The University of Minnesota, which produced Gopher, an early tool for finding documents through the internet, wanted to start charging for it. This, says Berners-Lee, encouraged people to look to his own free offering.
One of the first principles of an open standard, he says, is that is that you shouldn’t have to pay to get a copy of the standards document – as is demanded, for example, by the International Standards Organisation. A key feature of web standards too is that anyone should be able – indeed encouraged – to be involved in criticising and developing the standard. “Almost everybody out there [in the technically minded web community] has an idea for a tag that should be in the html standard,” he says.
Early writers of browsers adopted the open-source principle, freely trading bits of code among themselves and this spirit continues to inform the web. Patents are permissible under W3C principles, but use of the patented features is kept royalty-free.
I don't go a long with the argument that technology is necessary in schools because they are "teaching students for jobs that don't even exist yet". I was schooled in the 1960s and 1970s and yet I am able to do a job in ICT. My teachers taught me for the job I am doing today. They skills I learned then were reading, writing and maths that are universally required in any job/profession. Even though I do not have any formal ICT training, I have all I need to be able to do my job.
I suggest that schools should not expose students to ICT until senior levels and then not from a user perspective but from a developer perspective. They should not even be teaching kids to 'code' but about algorithms and data modelling etc
Posted by Grant at 10:59:11 on February 11, 2013
Any CIO of the corporate world will tell you that the problem of IT failures (and the infamous ERP failures) in corporate world is not lack of programming knowledge, but lack of what I call Computer Awareness among the senior managers who are involved in the implementations or use of IT solutions. This includes managers, Heads of departments and CEOs.
Tim says, "#this approach will promote a view of the computer as a machine that can be made to do anything its owner wants
.." Again, any CIO will tell you that the problem is not of under-expectation, but over expectation. Need is to tune down the expectations of managers to realistic levels. With the common belief that computer is a super machine, the expectations are sky high resulting in disappointment, frustrations and friction when the results are not so instant and, sometimes, not so miraculous.
Pls see my full comments at http://premkamble.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/digital-divide/
Posted by Prem Kamble at 9:26:54 on February 5, 2013
Posted by Anonymous at 12:22:15 on February 3, 2013
The vast majority of computer users simply want a 'tool' to perform specific tasks.
A good analogy is a the car: the vast majority of drivers want a vehicle to get from A to B and have zero interest in what is under the bonnet. No point in providing all school students with hands-on car maintenance, just those that intend to become auto mechanics and those interested in maintaining their own car.
Posted by Andy at 15:39:17 on January 31, 2013
Doubtless exactly the same would happen with auto mechanics if we put on a course in that; we'd get more school leavers wanting to become full-time mechanics.
The question then is: which do we need more - which would be more beneficial and profitable to the economy and businesses of New Zealand: auto-mechanics or software developers? That's for labour-market experts, government and the people of NZ to answer - but my money would be on the software developers.
Posted by Irv Ogby at 8:36:04 on February 1, 2013
Computing/ICT is now a core skill. You don't teach core maths *only* to those going on to be mathematicians because anyone else can just use a calculator. Even if people go on to just use calculators, it's recognised that having those core maths skills - understanding how mathematical systems work - equips people to understand the world around them.
Same with physics. And these days, same with programming.
To put it another way, if you spent most of your life working in a car it would make good sense to have a basic idea of how things work under the bonnet. Kids that are currently in school will spend most of there lives on and surrounded by computers.
We're setting them up to fail if we don't teach them the basics of how they work.
Posted by Anonymous at 19:14:55 on January 31, 2013
Posted by Trademe at 11:33:44 on February 1, 2013
Posted by Anonymous at 12:17:09 on February 1, 2013
I wanted to share :-)
Posted by Anonymous at 11:21:14 on January 31, 2013
Posted by Anonymous at 21:09:44 on January 31, 2013