Science Interviews

Interview

Mon, 11th Aug 2014

School of hard hacks

Mark Calleja, The Hack Lab

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From September, a new computer curriculum will be taught across the UK.  Computer science teacher, Mark Calleja set up an organisation called HackLab to help schools implement the scheme.  He spoke to Kat Arney about the changes we might be seeing in the curriculum... 

Mark -   As of September, all kids across key stages 1, 2 and 3 are expected to learn a lot of things about computer science in general.  That’s ranging from what we know as IT when we were at school which is using Microsoft word, having to navigate your way around Windows.

Kat -   It wasn’t Word when I was at school I tell you, basic!

Mark -   I mean, we’ve gone back now to understand that computer science is actually useful discipline.  It’s digital literacy effectively because it’s so much different in our world now – digital.  If you can't use them then you are effectively illiterate in a large portion of things, you have to do every day.

Kat -   Now, I would’ve thought that today’s kids didn’t need a lot of help to get on their smartphones and their computers.  You can't seem to separate them from their digital devices.  Are there particular things that they’ll be learning that aren't just basically how to check Facebook without anyone noticing?

Mark -   We’re trying to define the difference between consuming technology and creating with technology.  And so, we’re doing a lot of things at the moment with programming, make your own computer games.  But at the same time, learning how to use those things is important as well.  But at the same time, you don’t really want students to just be jumping on their iPhone and people saying, “He’s really good with computers.”  That’s not true.  You wouldn’t call someone a good cook because they can heat a Tesco ready meal.  The food is there and you can see that the results are there, but they haven't actually done it and they don’t understand what is happening.

Kat -   Certainly, when I was a kid, there was a lot about programming in very simple languages and now, things have got simpler, and simpler to use like I can setup a website using Wordpress and it looks fine and then my coder friends tell me, “You're not coding.”  So, is that the kind of thing, looking under the hood to actually understand a bit more about how these technologies work?

Mark -   Absolutely, yeah.  I mean, it’s important because all of these technologies are the things we use everyday.  Think about your internet banking.  You don’t understand how the security system works, but there are people out there who do and they're going to exploit that.  If everybody has a little bit of knowledge then none of us are victims anymore.  If we can to teach the kids how to use the technology, how to protect themselves while using it, they can't be taken advantage of by these people, who are exploiting basically your ignorance.

Kat -   Is it going to cover things like online privacy and all that kind of stuff or is it more sticking with the ‘how to use computers’?

Mark -   No.  Online privacy is an enormous part of what we’re teaching.  I think it’s the most important strand of what we need to teach kids.  It makes a whole quarter of the curriculum as it comes out.  So, one whole strand of the curriculum is called eSafety and how to use the internet responsibly, how to be a good internet citizen.  It talks about cyberbullying.  It talks about how to maintain your privacy online, keep your data safe.

Kat -   Could we be training our kids not to be idiots on YouTube?

Mark -   That would be amazing.  That would be a huge step forward I think, yeah. Understanding that once you put something onto the internet, it never, ever, ever, ever goes away.  It is always there somewhere.

Kat -   Why do you think that now is the time to actually really get computer sciences into the curriculum like this because you know, we have had IT lessons for quite some time?  Why is this change now needed?

Mark -   It’s been needed for a long time.  Everyone has sort of woken up to the idea that, “Wow!  We really don’t understand half of the way things work today.”

Kat -   So, it sounds like we are hopefully going to breed a generation of more tech savvy, more internet savvy children.  What hope for us older people?  Am I going to still have to get kids to help me to use a computer even though I think I can do it now?

Mark -   I hope not.  I mean, at HackLab, we want to do some stuff with grownups too.  We want to have mums and dads come in and say, “Here is what your kid is talking about.  This is what Minecraft is.  This is how you change the parental settings on your iPad so they can't buy a quarter of a million pound digger by accident which is one that actually happened.  Someone thought it was a toy.  They bought a quarter of a million pound Diga on mum’s credit card because it linked to her eBay, classic!  So, things like that is what we’re trying to avoid.  So, we will be working with grownups too.  So, never fear.

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