Sir Tim Berners-Lee has called for better education in computer science to give more children the ability to do "whatever they can imagine" with a computer.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum, the man credited with creating the World Wide Web said only a small set of people knew how to program, but they could do "incredible things".
He stated that a lot of people who used computers treated them like an appliance that they did not completely understand, and that little effort is made to learn its functionality or the opportunities it represents.
“A quarter of the planet uses the web, then within this quarter of people who may tweet and use social networks and so on, there’s a fairly small set of people who code,” said Berners-Lee.
“But when you look at those people, they have the ability to make a computer do whatever they can imagine. I think a lot of folks growing up today, when they open a computer, it’s like opening a refrigerator. It’s an appliance, it’s white goods, there’s some stuff in it, if it needs more in it you stock it, you put more music in it, you play it. And If it breaks it’s: ‘Mom, can I have a new one’.
“It’s not actually 'what went wrong there? Let me go in there, lets look at the log files, what crashed, why didn’t it have the right permissions, lets see if we can re-write that script so that it works in the new version of the operating system.'”
Berners-Lee went on to criticise IT in education, likening it to learning how to use a refrigerator or taking a driving test, and said their needed to be more programmers who can create something new, rather than providing students with an education in word processing software.
He added that it was “very important” to expose children to computer science early on so they could learn to understand the philosophy and mathematics behind programming.
“I think we have to be careful about prejudging what’s good and what’s bad in certain things,” he said.
“But learning to understand a computer, learning actually how a computer ticks and being able to program it is in fact a high idea. It’s very important in education with this computer science, which is understanding the philosophy of computer and the mathematics of computing, and learning to really build stuff, it’s very different from the IT class, and I think making that distinction very clear and maybe early on in schools is very important.”
Next Gen Skills Review
Computer science is set to be introduced to the Curriculum for the start of the next school year in September, with funding halted for the current information and communications technology teacher training courses in preparation for its introduction.
The announcement last January of the inclusion of computer science into the Curriculum came after the Next Gen Skills Review, co-authored by Ian Livingstone, which stated there was a “digital skills gap” affecting UK game development studios.
In a statement last year, Next Gen Skills said that only 3,517 out of the 782,779 qualifications entered at A-level in 2011 were in computing, highlighting the challenges facing the UK game and tech industries.
Image credit: Paul Clarke