Primary schools must teach computing

Teaching computing science is not top of the priority list for most primary school teachers. In an overcrowded curriculum, when there are not enough hours in the day, computing science, along with a third foreign language, RME (religious and moral education) and that weird learning outcome about land use are often casualties of the red pen, scored out on the weekly plan.But computing science is too important to be sidelined. There’s a viral video doing the rounds just now of a toddler demanding that an Amazon Echo play her favourite song (Baby Shark, in case you're wondering). The person filming watches with great amusement as the little girl talks to the machine as if it is alive: “Alexa, play my favourite song!” When Alexa obliges, the little girl claps her hands in delight: "Magic!" she squeals.It is commonplace now for stumped parents to say, “Uh, let’s ask Google” in response to yet another “But why?” enquiry from their curious offspring. The message to children is that the computers know best, that they are the smart ones, that they just magically “know”. In the absence of good-quality computing science teaching, we are faced with a generation growing up who will believe Alexa is the ghost in the machine. All seeing and all knowing, computers provide all the answers and we won’t think to question how they know. Our children will live in a vast Emerald City and their Wizard of Oz will be Google. It might sound like something far-fetched from the latest dystopian novel, but it is actually not so very far away and it will herald the death of technological discovery. If our children and young people don’t know how the machines work, how can they design them to work better?

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