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Kids' Hour of Code turns into a giant corporate infomercial for kids

Drain the swamp, urges education tsar

By Andrew Orlowski, 21 Nov 2016

A leading education advisor to government ministers in the UK has criticised the aggressive proliferation of software in schools as a "gimmick", and called for ministers to "drain the swamp".

British schoolchildren will play Minecraft for an hour as Microsoft's contribution to the global "Hour of Code", a stunt intended to inculcate algorithmic thinking into the young (Reg passim).

That's too bad if, like many parents, you want to ration your children's time spent playing video games. But it's great value for Microsoft. Microsoft already produces what it calls an "Education edition" of Minecraft, but will introduce a special online "Hour of Code" edition for the stunt, also targeting children.

Parents, such as the late Steve Jobs, tend to ration their children's use of technology. But would Jobs, who consistently praised the value of broad liberal arts, approve of an hour of Minecraft? It's doubtful.

Microsoft is listed as a "Platinum supporter" of the Code.org event, contributing at least $3m. 31 million children spent an hour with Minecraft last year, according to the company. Penny for penny, that's much cheaper exposure than buying TV advertising.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Tom Bennett said, “I am not a fan of Minecraft in lessons. This smacks to me of another gimmick which will get in the way of children actually learning. Removing these gimmicky aspects of education is one of the biggest tasks facing us as teachers. We need to drain the swamp of gimmicks.”

Google is also taking advantage of the happy-talk about kids coding to peddle its wares. Under the ruse of giving teacher's five hours "digital training", Google will be dishing out its VR headsets, and getting the schools hooked on Google Office. Google has come under heavy criticism in the USA for data-mining pupil data. "Did you know that schools may be “paying” for these services with your kid’s privacy?" warned author and pundit Sue Scheff.

But it only wants to make things better!

And not to be undone, Apple is also muscling in. Cupertino's hour of code also involves dragging blobs around a screen.

"Children were asked to build pre-created modules, much like an Automator or Workflow module. They simply dragged blocks of code from the Code.org sidebar to the main canvas — code that told their on-screen characters to move or turn, as well as how much or how often," iMore notes. This was interspersed with propaganda: "Between puzzles, the kids got to see short videos from the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, who emphasised the empowerment behind learning to code."

Marvellous.

And if this doesn't inspire you, what will?

Youtube Video

Speaking on a panel in 2014 on the "funnification" of technical subjects in schools, Paul Reeves blamed the generation "Baby Beebers", who had been at school with micros in the early 1980s, but are now in management.

"A product might be no fun to work on for years but it will ultimately be important. So it's unfair to say to children that insist that it's a fun and interesting thing to do," said Reeves.

Perhaps all that Hour of Code is really teaching is short attention spans? Discuss.

Code.org co-founder Hadi Partovi, who claimed that coding in schools would win Hillary Clinton the Presidential Election, initially agreed to be interviewed by The Register, but changed his mind. ®

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