24 March 2016

I read with interest an article that has gone viral over the past couple of days, claiming that we’re creating a generation of hackers by equipping young people with coding skills.

microbit bbc

Image from microbit.co.uk.

Jasper Hamill of The Mirror, claims that the launch of BBC’s micro:bit, which will be given to every first year secondary school pupil in the UK, will create ‘digital Darth Vaders’.

More worryingly, he references a report launched by Logalis UK which warns that there is a “hacker lurking in every classroom”.

A follow up piece was posted online today, perhaps in an attempt to temper the social media storm that has raged since the original article and, whilst this piece is quite right in highlighting the need to teach children ethics and the correct way to behave online, the comparison of coding skills to a gun is only adding more drama to the original piece.

Hamill writes: “If we don’t teach kids the ethics they need to navigate our new world, it’s like giving them a gun without telling them not to shoot people.”

How extraordinarily dangerous and irresponsible a claim. We’re trying to tackle a huge gap in the technical skills of the country and encourage growth across digital industries to help our national economy compete on a global scale.

If you step back to look at the whole picture, you see that many parents do not have the skills or experience with computers to understand what their children learning to code means. Scaremongering around something that people don’t understand is an instant recipe for people to whip up a storm, stopping progress around the thing that’s scaring them. People are simply afraid of what they don’t understand.

Thankfully, it doesn’t seem to be a story that has spread further than the one news outlet; other than for the social media frenzy negating its claims.

I find it hard to establish how it could be in the best interest of a provider of IT and business services to release a report making these claims.

BBC Director-General Tony Hall claims the micro:bit has the potential to be a “seminal piece of British innovation”, that’s set to help the next generation to be the “coders, programmers and digital pioneers of the future” and I couldn’t agree more.

We need to be doing all we can to encourage children to learn the digital skills that will help them further down the road, and to help children who want to work in STEM industries as much as we – rather than terrifying their parents who are then likely to disengage with those topics completely.

Journalists have a responsibility to helping our country be the best it can be. Filling people’s heads with this nonsense is irresponsible and threatens the progress that we’re making on an international scale.

We will be holding our next Code Club in the coming weeks, helping six- to 16-year-olds develop skills that will equip them for a great future – not a Sith Lord…

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