“Don’t bother teaching your kids how to paint – we have cameras,” said nobody ever. Except that somebody did. An OECD education chief has decided that your children learning to create software is an utter waste of time due to how technology will evolve.
His line of thinking is the latest step forward in a results-based, quantifiable-over-quality approach to life and learning. Thinking that these two – life and learning – are distinct and separable is the first misstep down this path.
It hasn't been the first time that someone has used their title or fame to conjecture that learning to create software is useless. It certainly won't be the last.
Others have expressed their frustration by suggesting that they want their kids to outright avoid learning to write code. Some of that frustration stems from edtech and boot camps over-emphasizing syntax while ignoring problem solving. I can agree with this: the current products and corresponding ideologies are not really meant for deep, engaged learning that translates into creative thinking and broad skill development. This deficiency is, of course, why Shift Sight exists.
Where did things go wrong?
I believe that we have introduced too much technology into learning to code.
That may seem like an odd statement, but consider that most technology is introduced for a convenience. A convenience diminishes the process while emphasizing the result. Right? The objective of washing dishes, presumably, is to have clean dishes. That's why we welcomed automatic dishwashers.
Is the objective of the learning environment to generate a result as quickly as possible? Advancing technology has led to this situation in edtech.
You see, we have layer upon layer of software complexity that has been added to the tools that are used to teach software. A teacher does not pull out a Color Computer 3 from a thrift store to teach problem solving; they download Scratch and pass around a book on drag-and-drop programming.
This is using modern technology. This is convenience. It is an environment that is entirely mismatched to how deep learning occurs. However, I am not suggesting that we go back to slide rules: there is an optimal balance that cannot be found if profiteering is the goal.
Once upon a time, you could purchase a physical magazine that would have a program listing in it. Mind you, I am not describing a formal textbook for learning; this magazine was simply meant for a casual encounter. If you were not in front of a computer, you might have been tempted to emulate the computer and try to figure out how the program solves the problem.
But as soon as you had access to a machine, you could type in the program and see the result. As you typed each line, you were absorbing some part of it. Your brain was slowly making sense of the code as you went along. You felt anticipation as you were getting close to the end. (These things had line numbers, remember?) The reward was coming soon! Oh no, a typo! What is wrong with line 50? Ah, the PRINT statement was misspelled.
Along came convenience – more technology – and typing code is gradually being put on the same shelf as washing dishes. It did not matter that the typing carries immense learning value or a roller coaster of excitement (for us younger folk, anyway). Now that we can download source code with a point and a click, we go that route wherever possible. The code has become invisible because we no longer need to apply so much effort to produce it.
The medium inescapably becomes the message. Convenient code entry leads to a mentality of consumption. Consumption implies that code is no longer scarce. Electronics are increasingly disposable, and I believe that there is a clear correlation between process (invisible code) and result (disposable electronics). Would you hang on to your phone for another year if you had to spend a month typing in code for it? It's very possible.
In many cases, an emphasis on result over process leads to systems that no longer serve basic human needs. Don't bother watching that ballgame, an AI will just give you the outcome from a set of variables. Isn't it only the score that matters?
If an emphasis on results over process does not serve human needs, why do we see a continued shift away from process?
Count to 10
Results are quantifiable. This number is smaller, so that other thing is better.
A process, especially in a learning context, is an intangible and immeasurable item. It may be very individualized, and it can also represent quality (as opposed to quantity).
Technology thrives in and creates systems that value results. A system that is sampling rainfall data has zero concept of any quality beyond the numeric approximations created by its sensors.
As companies try to deploy technology everywhere that it does not belong for the sake of profiteering, we slowly lose the intangibles. We lose the processes that lead to happy humans. If you need results to prove that, study after study shows that we are not categorically happier with more stuff and more technology in our life.
How do you count to 10?
Do you blurt out “10” because you've done it so many times?
Do you do 10 push-ups?
Do you make crazy noises with each number because that makes your child laugh?
Do you use it as a chance to practice in different languages?
How do you learn to write code? (More importantly, what second-order effects come out of the learning environment?)
Corporate and government mouthpieces that are advocating that it is useless to count to 10, since we already know what that looks like, have misunderstood what counting to 10 can look like. A focus on results has caused them to miss the purpose of the process and the neuroscience behind it.
We do not give kids paintbrushes because we expect all of them to become artists. Similarly, we do not teach kids how to write code because we intend to create a generation of only computer scientists.
Jade is being designed to foster an optimal, individual environment for learning. The learning environment, commonly misunderstood or dismissed, is more important than the material. Jade is not results-based. It is for happy humans learning how to create durable gadgets and solve problems.
See you next week!
Ty is a Founder of Shift Sight, LLC.