Coding is a Necessary Part of 21st Century Education

Coding is a Necessary Part of 21st Century Education

Today’s students are growing up in a world very different from the one their teachers did, and there are fascinating opportunities awaiting this generation. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for educators and schools to anticipate the future workplace and the skills that students will need to successfully negotiate these new environments.

The changing nature of the global market and the development of the knowledge economy was the focus of a OECD report which suggested that in the 21st Century:

“… the success of individuals, firms, regions, and countries will reflect more than anything else their ability to learn’ which in turn raises ‘profound questions for the kinds of knowledge pupils are being equipped with and ought to be equipped with, by schools.”

One American initiative, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, identified four skills which have become widely accepted as essential for 21st Century learners; communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking – the 4Cs. I like this concept, and when possible I create opportunities for my students to develop these ‘timeless’ skills. Furthermore, my students seem to genuinely enjoy participating in projects and activities which support the development of the 4Cs.

But despite being an advocate of the 4Cs, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that there is a 5th skill which all 21st Century learners should be introduced to. Furthermore, the development of this 5th skill requires students to collaborate and communicate effectively while thinking critically and creatively. It is the quintessential 21st Century skill – computer coding.

Many people still think that learning to write computer code is something that is only useful for tech geeks and teens who spend too much time online, but it’s about time that stereotype was overhauled. Today’s students — Generation Y, Millennials and Generation Z, Digital Natives — need to be introduced to the basics of computer coding so they can understand how computer programs work and so they can begin developing the skills that will enable them to write their own programs, create their own websites and develop their own apps in the future. Simply learning how to use popular software applications such as MS Word and MS Excel may have been sufficient for previous generations, but it is no longer enough for today’s learners.

The global challenges of the 21st Century – climate change, depleted natural resources, environmental destruction, pollution, health epidemics, human trafficking, terrorism, armed-conflict and economic instability – will only be successfully overcome with human ingenuity aided by technology and computers. Chances are, today’s young programmers will be the individuals creating solutions for the challenges of tomorrow.

In England and Wales, the Department for Education has realized that it is essential for all students to learn the basics of computer science and in September 2014 implemented one of the largest curriculum changes in decades by replaced the subject Information and Communication Technology (ICT) with Computing. One of the core components of this new subject is computer coding.

The decision to teach computer coding at all schools in England and Wales highlights just how vital these skills are for individuals, communities and the economy in the 21st Century. There are signs that other countries are waking up to this new reality and before long many more school systems will be following the UK’s lead and begin introducing computer science to school students. Eventually, coding will become as commonplace in the school curriculum as biology, physics and foreign languages.

As classroom teachers, it’s important to keep abreast of such important developments. For those educators who are interested to learn more, there is a great initiative called the Hour of Code, which has everything you need to understand the fundamentals of computer programming.

The ‘Hour of Code’, was first introduced in the US in response to the lack of opportunities for school students to learn basic programming skills. The initiative has the support of a diverse range of public figures that includes Bill Gates, Snoop Dogg, Malala Yousafzai, Richard Branson, Aston Kutcher and Mark Zuckerberg while aiming to ‘demystify the art of coding’ and expand student participation in computer science.

The 2016 Hour of Code takes place between 5th-11th December, and there are some great online tutorials which have everything students and teachers need to get their first taste of coding. Last year the Hour of Code teamed up with Minecraft and Star Wars to create tutorials that engaged and inspired.

The Minecraft tutorial is a great place to start. It uses Blocky to introduce learners to the basics of computer code. Learners use these blocks to program a Minecraft character to complete various tasks. Under each block is a line of Java code so that students can ‘look under the hood’ to see the actual code that is being used. Not only is the tutorial easy to follow and engaging, but it also introduces learners to ‘commands’, ‘repeat loops’ and ‘if statements’ — concepts which lie at the very foundations of computer programming. Once students have come to grips with the Minecraft tutorial, they can move on to the Star Wars tutorial which allows students to actually begin writing lines of Java code.

The benefits of learning the basics of computer science are immense and all students should have this opportunity — not only because it can be a path to a rewarding career but because, as Steve Jobs famously explained, “Everyone in this country should learn how to program a computer… because it teaches you how to think.”

If you are interested in getting involved with the Hour of Code, you can get started by visiting the Hour of Code’s website Code.org. There are lots of great resources to inspire future programmers and you also download certificates and stickers for students who successfully complete the programme.

Happy coding!

Advertisements

Promoting British Values in Schools Prevents Radicalisation

Promoting British Values in Schools Prevents Radicalisation

Promoting British Values is required of all early years providers and maintained schools as one of the most effective ways to counteract extremism and radicalisation in educational provisions. British Values are understood as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs (Department for Education, 2014).

Schools can ensure that they are actively promoting British Values by supporting the spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development of their pupils. Although promoting British Values may seem difficult at first, it is not required of teachers to use specialised resources or to organise dedicated sessions to make sure they comply with Ofsted requirements. Instead, teachers are encouraged to make use of the opportunities that exist within their current curricula in order to promote British Values.

Best Practices

Teachers are encouraged to use or adapt the following examples of positive practice to introduce British Values into their everyday teaching.

Safe Environment to Debate Controversial Issues

Students should be able to discuss controversial and sensitive topics related to everyday life, including terrorism and extremist ideas, in a safe environment. This should be done with appropriate guidance and support from teachers and professionals. Doing so will help students not only satisfy their curiosity, but also distinguish facts from biased opinions and understand how to challenge extremist ideas. Organising classroom debates and discussions will also help students develop their communication skills and learn how to present their opinions while respecting the views of others.

Promoting Collaboration

Schools should promote activities that help students work together to achieve both individual and collective goals. While working in a team or a partnership, students learn how to focus on and use their own and others’ strengths to achieve success. Helping students develop such attitudes can be done by inviting them to work on projects that require using different skills and talents, such as conducting research. Research projects provide perfect opportunities to build positive relationships based on mutual respect, understanding one’s own and others’ unique talents, learning and communication styles, and preferences.

Encouraging Children to Shape Their Own Experiences

Schools should encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning and offer them opportunities for self-expression. Students should also be encouraged to express their opinion as to what kind of activities, contexts and topics they wish to explore and participate in. Their opinions should be taken into full consideration, and the best way to do it is to engage students in planning their learning processes. Together with teachers, students can explore what they feel most excited about and what kinds of activities they would like to investigate further. Teachers should always offer enough space for individual students to express themselves so that no one feels discriminated against or left behind.

Promote Democratic Processes

Organising voting for school councils or holding mock elections are great examples of how to support students’ understanding of the functions of a democratic country. This way students not only get to know the principles of democratic processes, but they also have a chance to participate actively in them by expressing their individual views and choosing what they think is best for their school, their team or their community.

Comparing a democratic government with governments of other types also provides a good opportunity to discuss pros and cons referring to students’ beliefs and values, which often encourages self-reflection.

Learning to Defend One’s Own Views

Guided debating or presentation sessions are fantastic opportunities for students to learn how to present, argue and defend their own viewpoints. With adequate support from teachers students will be able to develop their communication skills, sequence their presentations appropriately, choose the most suitable language and appealing arguments to defend their views. Debating teaches students that their voice is important, that they have a right to present it, defend their points of view, to be listened to, and to be heard.

One of the most important aspects to consider for teachers is to support students in developing positive communication skills that fully take others into consideration. Teachers should help students understand the importance of mutual respect and realise that the fact they do not agree with others does not give them a right to offend them while making their stand. In view of the threat of radicalisation, supporting students to know how to argue, defend their own views and challenge the views of others will equip them with a tool to protecting themselves from indoctrination.

Activities Run by Students

Encouraging students to be in charge of their own learning is a powerful tool that helps them take responsibility for their development, to experience how their own decisions influence the environment around them, and to see how they can shape their reality as they contribute positively to society. Extracurricular classes are good examples of student-led activities that offer extra space to decide what is best for them, plan actions, delegate tasks, manage talents and work in partnerships. Apart from the fact that such activities keep students busy with the things they like the most, students also learn how to function in a democratic society where they can show initiative as they influence their own experiences.

All of these examples can be embedded in everyday learning processes as part of the ongoing education that promotes British Values. However, teachers can decide to introduce topics that focus on specific aspects of democracy, such as living under the rule of law, public institutions and their role in the society, or the importance of tolerance and harmony between cultures. These topics can be discussed separately during classes and can become part of larger projects.

References:

Promoting Fundamental British Values as part of SMSC in Schools. Departmental advice for maintained schools. Department for Education, 2014.

Prevent Duty: Identifying Children at Risk of Radicalisation

Prevent Duty: Identifying Children at Risk of Radicalisation

Identifying children at risk of radicalisation and recognising their vulnerabilities are now required of all schools and early years providers in England and Wales. Under the Prevent Duty introduced by British government in 2011 as part of the overall national counter-terrorism strategy known as CONTEST, the strategy aims at stopping people from being drawn to terrorism or supporting extremist ideology, and specific guidance has been offered to the educational sector to demonstrate their compliance.

The Revised Prevent Duty Guidance for England and Wales 2015 is an official document through which schools, teachers and early years professional will find details about what is expected of them under Prevent Duty. As its main purpose is to protect children from radical influences those who work directly with children need to understand how to recognise the individuals who may potentially be in danger of being radicalised, but also what to do when a child at risk has been identified.

Wider Safeguarding Duty

One of the Prevent Duty requirements is that all staff receives appropriate training that will help them recognise children at risk of radicalisation. Protecting children from radicalisation is similar in nature to safeguarding them from other harms and therefore should be treated as part of everyday safeguarding duties. Some of the risk factors may be similar to those typical for safeguarding, and practitioners need to refer to their experience and use their professional judgment when identifying a child at risk of radicalisation.

How to Identify a Child at Risk

Below there are some of the most typical risk factors and circumstances that may make children more vulnerable to radicalisation.

Identity crisis

This may happen when a child feels uncomfortable with their place in the society around them, or finds it difficult to understand where they belong or who they are. Searching for identity is often more visible during early adolescence stage when being accepted, especially by friends or peers at school, becomes particularly important to young people.

Also, young people who do not understand their cultural or religious background or are distanced from it may feel the need to reconnect with their heritage to better understand their roots and find their place in the world. As their sense of belonging boosts their self confidence, experiencing rejection by friends, teachers, parents or carers may become more difficult to cope with. This is the time when young people may become more vulnerable and may easily welcome those who offer them understanding and acceptance.

Since many extremist groups use this particular vulnerability, it is important to offer young people adequate support to make sure they will not need to look for it elsewhere.

Personal Crisis

Whether it is family tensions or going through an adolescence period, children and young people are very prone to such circumstances. Teachers and carers need to understand that no matter what the reason behind a child’s crisis is, if there is no one to openly talk to or rely on among the closest people in their lives, children will resort to any possible source that can offer them consolation. Because they do not yet have enough knowledge and experience to always judge appropriately who is trustful and who is less so, they might easily fall victims to those who are aware of these vulnerabilities.

Crisis is often easy to notice for professionals — as well as extremists who know exactly what kind of vulnerabilities to look for and how to use. It is important to react in time offering adequate support.

Life Circumstances

Children tend to be more vulnerable when going through difficult times or when they are permanently affected by their life circumstances (e.g. children and young people with learning disabilities or other difficulties). An example of a temporary change in life circumstances might be a family migrating to another country, which usually causes intensive stress and tension for children.

Also, if a political situation in the country of their origin is difficult, children may live in a constant fear for the wellbeing of relative who still reside there, which as a result may make them prone to harmful influences. They may even be determined to help their relatives — and this is when extremist ideology as a last resort might appeal to them if they are not provided adequate support and offered access to reliable sources of information.

Unmet Aspirations

Sometimes children experience too much pressure from their parents or carers who set high expectations of them without offering enough space to make mistakes or to experiment safely. These children’s self-confidence might then be negatively affected, and they might try hard to prove their worth. When they experience failure, they might not be ready to cope with it, they may feel hopeless, guilty or think they have experienced injustice. This is when children or young people may turn to contexts, situations, people or ideologies that may help them regain temporary control over their lives.

Criminality

Previous involvement in criminal groups or imprisonment can make young people more vulnerable to extremist influences. They most likely already experienced violence and their values might be seriously compromised. They might feel fearless, confident and ready to engage in extremist activities, which makes them an easier target for recruiters.

Changes in Children’s Behaviour

Many symptoms and changes in children’s behaviour will be similar in nature to other safeguarding issues, and they may not necessarily mean a child is being radicalised. Such changes may indicate that the child experiences some form of neglect, physical, emotional or verbal abuse at home, is being bullied at school, or is simply going through a difficult period — and these will not be related to extremism.

The following are signs and symptoms of behaviour that a child at risk of radicalisation may display:

  • Isolation from friends or changes in friends; becoming detached or withdrawn;
  • Significant changes of appearance, absenteeism and secrecy;
  • Becoming disrespectful, quick to anger, advocating violent actions and means;
  • Expression of extremist views, possession of violent extremist literature;
  • Seeking to join extremist organisations or recruit others to extremist ideologies;
  • “Them and Us” thinking.

The above should not be interpreted in isolation, as usually a child at risk will display a series of signs and changes in behaviour at the same time. As there is no single way to identifying a child who is at risk of radicalisation, teachers need to rely on their professional judgment when analysing each child’s individual circumstances. Nevertheless, each case needs to be taken seriously and should not be ignored even if not directly related to radicalisation.

References:

Revised Prevent Duty Guidance for England and Wales. HM Government, 2015

Counter-Extremism Strategy. HM Government, 2015

Prevent Duty Tips to Build Resistance to Radicalisation

Prevent Duty Tips to Build Resistance to Radicalisation

By Vito Matt

Building children’s resilience to radicalisation is part of the national Counter Terrorism Strategy (2011), further known as CONTEST, which aims at “reducing the threat to the UK from terrorism by stopping people becoming terrorist or being drawn into terrorism” (HM Government 2015) — and Prevent Duty is a key responsibility for the United Kingdom’s teachers.

The early years sector caters to the most vulnerable and the most impressionable members of British society, so the right understanding of the Prevent Duty is key. Teaching democracy and British Values to school children may seem easier than doing so for nursery children, so it is not a surprise that early years professionals, childminders and nursery workers are asking for clarification as to how they should interpret and implement this legislation.

Where to Begin

Building resilience to radicalisation from students’ early years is already embedded in the EYFS and constitutes part of the general safeguarding duty, and, in fact, it is not as daunting as it may seem to be. The key issue lies within a proper understanding of the radicalisation process and a precise knowledge of who might be vulnerable to it. That is why early years practitioners should receive relevant compulsory training on Prevent Duty to be able to recognise these vulnerabilities.

Early years practitioners need to help children develop self-confidence and positive attitudes such as open-mindedness, inclusive thinking, and distinguishing right from wrong. The key tool to achieving these attitudes is Positive Pedagogy, which already plays a central role in supporting children’s overall harmonious development throughout the entire Foundation Stage. When it comes to skills development, children need to be able, for example, to express their views, to work in partnerships with others, and to establish and maintain positive communication.

Promoting Resilience in Practice

Early years practitioners can take specific steps to make sure they promote children’s resilience and work in line with both the EYFS and the Prevent Duty requirements.

Building Confidence

A confident child is a child who knows their limits, is able to recognise their feelings and emotions, and expresses their views without fear of being judged and rejected. To achieve this, practitioners should create a supportive environment in which every child is valued for who they are. This means respecting their individual needs and preferences, allowing them to explore their individuality by offering variety of activities and contexts, and making sure they can build their confidence by stretching their skills and taking reasonable risks.

Practitioners should always offer positive but constructive feedback and support all children no matter the situation. This is already required of practitioners under the EYFS guidelines and is part of Enabling Environments. However, to work in line with the Prevent Duty requirements, practitioners need to have a clear understanding of how building children’s confidence can prevent them from being radicalised and drawn into extremism.

Mixing and Sharing with Others

Children need to be able to build relationships at their own individual pace and in their own preferred way. To do so, the environment needs to offer plenty opportunities to interact with other children and adults. Although children attending an early years provision will already be part of the group, it is important to allow them to mingle with children of different ages, abilities, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and with adults in general. This is particularly important for mono-ethnic provisions, which might face more difficult challenges trying to offer opportunities for inclusion and cultural exchange.

Organising outings will provide extra space for children to meet others and use their communication skills to initiate and maintain contacts, build new relationships, and to notice similarities and differences among people. It is important for children to grow in a multicultural and multiethnic environment, as this will help them appreciate and respect other people’s individuality.

Recognising Similarities, Differences Between Themselves and Others

It is important for children to be aware of their own cultural and ethic identity because it is part of who they are. At the same time, they should be offered opportunities to know and understand other cultures.

The easiest way to support this in an early years provision is by introducing certain routines that help children learn more about others around them. This can be done by regularly celebrating various religious festivals and cultural events in which all children are active participants. Such celebrations help create a spirit of unity and mutual understanding and protect children from developing discriminatory attitudes.

Visiting places of worship, reading multicultural books and offering multi-ethnic toys, music and food are the simplest and most effective tools for helping children become proud of their own roots, learning to value and respect the culture of others’, and challenging negative stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes.

Learning Right from Wrong

This one might seem the most challenging of all because different cultures have different values; what might seem right for us does not necessarily seem right to others. However, as United Kingdom is a democratic country, the society shares the same basic British Values which early years practitioners are expected to promote as part of their Prevent Duty.

The strongest emphasis will be put on respecting and valuing others, maintaining positive relationships, and not accepting verbal, emotional or physical abuse. Positive Pedagogy is the key for all early years practitioners – they need to be role models and demonstrate their own positive attitudes towards children, parents and other adults. Children need to be aware that working in partnerships, positive communication and mutual respect for others are the best ways to build and maintain positive relationships, and that any act of violence is never the solution. Thus, early years settings need to develop appropriate behaviour management policies that help to build children’s confidence and consideration to others, which again is required by Ofsted as part of the EYFS requirements.

Building children’s resilience to radicalisation is not as difficult as it may seem, and most early years partitioners are already doing it as part of the EYFS requirements. Effective Prevent Duty training should help practitioners understand vulnerabilities to radicalisation, the importance of prevent work, their role in reporting and referral, and why working in partnerships with other local agents is of highest importance. There are many in-class and e-learning providers widely available who cover this issue in full.

References:

Revised Prevent Duty Guidance for England and Wales. HM Government, 2015

Counter-Extremism Strategy. HM Government, 2015