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Kids coding camp coming to town

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Today’s economy is properly digital. Many of us spend all day at a computer and then come home to order groceries online, chat with friends online and research a good plumber online. It takes a huge amount of infrastructure to keep all those businesses ticking and to keep improving them as our expectations continue to rise. What chance does a business have that doesn’t have a snappy, engaging website with easy e-commerce functionality?

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When I was a teen in the 1980s, I was fascinated with all kinds of technology and gadgetry. I shared this passion with my dad and with my sister, who was working on her PhD in Computer Science at the time. My dad bought a TRS-80 computer from Radio Shack, complete with lightning-speed cassette tape drive (remember those?) and dot matrix printer. We couldn’t believe, or even imagine, the reach, the power, the potential.

So, after dinner and homework each week night (and a few Saturday nights, I’ll admit) I’d be in the office playing the earliest video games, chatting with probably the first consumer AI-driven chatbot, Eliza, and doing some BASIC programming. The thrill of:

10 PRINT “Hello World!”
20 GOTO 10

turning into

Hello World!
Hello World!
Hello World!
Hello World!
Hello World!
Hello World!
Hello World!
Hello World!
Hello World!….

Well, it was hard to beat.

We knew we had to get our heads around our semicolons and our commands to get anything fun to come up on that black screen. And so we learned to operate from the command line, cracked through a decent amount of programming, and voilà, a generation of coders and tech entrepreneurs was spawned that delivered better hardware, better software, better interfaces, smaller chips, and thus transformed the global economy.

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Most of us lived this through the interface. It went from black to white, as Macintosh introduced the first graphic interface ‘portable’ computers (and when I say ‘portable’, technically it could be carried, though not easily or attractively). Then moved to blue as Microsoft adopted the GUI interface that made the command line the domain of the IT people rather than the normal user. After that came whizzy graphics, eventually X-Boxes for games (sorry Pong!), beautiful MacBooks, and amazing touchscreen Surface interfaces. We were amazed that two-year-olds could use iPads and declared the new generation Digital Natives, never knowing a world without technology.

But, in the midst of all this easy-to-use technology, somehow we lost touch with the fact that someone has to build it all. And the kids have become consumers, sitting slack-jawed and motionless above the wrists for hours, killing baddies but never knowing the thrill of summoning the code-driven genies themselves.

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I write in jest but really, it’s no joke. Today it is estimated that more than 800,000 jobs in IT are unfilled in Europe because there simply aren’t the people with the necessary skills. Computer science classes have been second-class citizens – focusing at secondary school level on using boxed products until recently, and according to the latest statistics, 82% of computer science students are male. If the beauty of the interface means that the coders go extinct (or very very narrow) in our country – has the monster eaten its own tail? In short, yes! 800,000 times yes.

So how can we halt this decline? It’s simple – let’s get young people excited about coding. That shouldn’t be too hard – there’s never been a more exciting time to become a digital maker. The national curriculum now focuses on coding, so all students should get at least some basic exposure. Out of the classroom there are Raspberry Pi’s, Code Clubs, Raspberry Jams, Bafta Young Games Designer Competitions and CBBC Airmageddon shows to get and keep kids interested. Trends are changing, with computer science now the most popular ‘major’ among women at Stanford University. Tech camps provide courses during holidays, and outside of school to students from 9-17 years old, with something to appeal to kids of every stripe. Kids participating in all kinds of coding activities are coming away with a new community of friends, inspired to create, and skilled-up for the world they live in.

We need a generation of inspired, risk-taking, code-literate innovators to keep the UK at the forefront of problem-solving, art, voice-lifting and the digital economy. Our future depends on it so come on, let’s get those kids coding!

Fire Tech Camp is the UK’s leading tech and making holiday activity provider for kids and teens. We are shaping the next generation of entrepreneurs and inventors. Summer camps are running from 11th July-26th August at South Hampstead High School, Imperial College and Fab Lab London. For more information and to book please visit firetechcamp.com or call 0207 193 4002.

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Temporary school needs more time

South Hampstead High School has been operating out of temporary classrooms within the cricket club grounds for the past year. The school, which owns the cricket club land, has been renovating its Maresfield Gardens site, and had hoped to move back in for the start of the 2014/15 academic year in September.

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However, according to a new planning application, the Maresfield site won’t be ready in time. The school therefore is applying for an extension:

During the construction phase at Maresfield Gardens some delays have been incurred, which could not have been foreseen when temporary planning permission was applied for. These include unchartered obstructions in the ground, which delayed the construction of the basement and delays in obtaining necessary approvals from service providers.

Whilst the GDST’s contractors, Wates, have been doing all they can to minimise any impact on the timetable, due to these unforeseen delays it is now not possible for the school to return to the Maresfield Gardens site for the start of the 2014/15 year in September 2014 as hoped. However, it is anticipated that the new school will be ready to locate back to Maresfield for the start of the spring term, 2015 and will have fully vacated the site by 1 March 2015, six months after the extant temporary
planning permission expires.

It’s inconceivable that this won’t be granted. Despite the initial concerns of some Lymington Road residents, the temporary school hasn’t had much of a negative impact on traffic. Yes, there have been odd reports of some creative parking, but it hasn’t been carmageddon as some had feared. It does mean that those residents who look out onto the cricket club grounds will have to wait a bit longer for their view to be reinstated.

The planning application can be viewed here.