Clear Thinking

Latest news and opinion from the Clearleft team

Educating the future of the web

In September 2012, the ICT (information communication technology) syllabus was disapplied from the national curriculum in the UK.

This doesn’t mean that schools no longer teach ICT, but they are able to create their own teaching programs or continue to teach with the existing format. ICT classes is where many key stage 1 and 2 students will gain access to technology (primarily computers) that they may not be exposed to at home. Sadly it is still focussed around basic computer skills over creativity.

If you look at the outline for Key Stage 1 learning you will see the following under the title Breadth of Study:

“exploring a variety of ICT tools [for example, floor turtle, word processing software, adventure game].”

Over 20 years ago I learnt how to draw shapes with Turtle and it’s eerie robot friend whose appearance is not too dissimilar from a robot vacuum cleaner. The adventure game we had was Grannies Garden on an RM Nimbus and it all could have put me off using a computer for life.

Fortunately, with the syllabus being up for grabs, great teachers and schools have been creating better programs of learning and the web has played a big part.

Many schools have intranets designed to allow students to create their own pages, upload their work to share with the class or to do their homework from. We’re not talking about 16 year old students studying for GCSE either, key stages 1-2 is children aged 5-11.

Festival of Code

This week sees the 5th annual Young Rewired State kick off with a series of week long hacks across the UK.

Part of the Festival of Code, YRS culminates with 50 coders and designers aged 18 and under spending the weekend at the Custard Factory in Birmingham putting together ideas using open government data.

Viviana and I are going to be mentoring at the Brighton event with an introduction into user experience design. I’m quite excited to see what kids are now doing with code that I wasn’t able to at their age.

It was great to read an article praising Code Club in the Independent recently, a movement that former Clearlefter Josh Emerson was involved in here in Brighton. It is a subject which we are all very passionate about.

There is a strong internship scheme at Clearleft. This year we have launched a new Graduate scheme; after all the young coders and designers are the future of the web and what we give them will ultimately be our legacy.

Recently we had a school leaver visit us who wanted to know a bit about what everyone does here at Clearleft. What it is like to work in the industry? What does the industry actually encompasses? What advice would we give them on what they should do in September with regards to higher education? It’s a valid question, one that many young creatives will be asking and sadly one that I feel is impossible to answer.

Zen Learning

Unlike many in my field, I did not study at University anything relating to computer sciences; I did not go to University. I was fascinated with the web and became more engrossed in as it touched my everyday life and entertainment.

After reading about it in a now defunct magazine, I ordered a copy of CSS Zen Garden from what was to become Amazon, and spent a month sketching layouts and ideas for what I wanted to do with my little plot of land. It was months before I took to code and finding help and discovering how tricks and techniques were achieved by a mixture of using view source on any site I liked the look of and tutorials in magazines.

The CSS Zen Garden is still a fantastic exercise in teaching fundamentals of web design and development. I was delighted to read David Shea will be reopening the project to see what’s changed in the last 10 years.

In that time I have finished 2/3rds of an Open University Degree in Web Application Development, before the course was shut down by the OU because its content was deemed out of date. I’ve taken part in several of Stanford University’s Open Access courses, paid for subscriptions to Lynda.com, Treehouse and played around with free services like Code Academy and Code School, all to try and find suitable things I could recommend to people for learning about web design and development.

With Code Club, and events like Young Rewired State encourage the curious to pursue their passion for creating digital products. It seems so very wrong that we’re failing them at just the time they need embracing and nurturing the most.

We’ve made our own rules, we can teach the next generation to break them

I don’t know what can be done to change this today, but I have a vision, a dream perhaps, that in 5-10 years time, there will be pioneers of the web becoming full time college and university lecturers. It will be a great step towards giving our future talent access to the knowledge we have gained by fumbling around in the dark all this time. But it won’t stop the pressures and constraints of the department for education potentially turning the whole affair sour.

Instead, what we need is the creation of an institute for students that encourages and drives the aptitude of new school leavers interested in working within the web in the same way that the Brighton Institute of Modern Music has done over the last 12 years for aspiring musicians.

Founded by people who had lived and breathed the industry (Kevin Nixon, Bruce Dickinson, Damien Keyes and Sarah Clayman), not newly qualified teachers following a stale syllabus. BIMM now consists of multiple academies with a new facility in Manchester opening its doors this September.

We need an independent school run by the thought leaders of our industry, forget qualifications, we can decide if we need them along the way. We can teach practical skills, multiple disciplines, theory and ideology and encourage exploration and pushing the status quo. We could be producing the greatest web practitioners in the world, here in England within the next decade.

In 10 years time Britain could be at the forefront of the web with a new breed of impassioned thinkers and doers and we can all rest easy knowing they will have started their careers being encouraged to express themselves and be creative.