Computing in K-12: radical change in the UK


July 22, 2013


Simon Peyton-Jones


Microsoft Research, Cambridge England


Computer science is one of the richest, most exciting disciplines on the planet, yet any teenager will tell you that ICT (as it is called in UK schools – “information and communication technology”) is focused entirely on the use and application of computers, and in practice covers nothing about how computers work, nor programming, nor anything of the discipline of computer science as we understand it. Over the last two decades, computing at school has drifted from writing adventure games on the BBC micro to writing business plans in Excel.

This is bad for our young people’s education, and it is bad for our economy. Nor is this phenomenon restricted to the UK: practically every country is struggling with the same issues. It’s a big problem all right, but it’s a fixable problem. In this talk I’ll describe the radical improvements we have made in the UK, which firmly establish computer science the K-12 curriculum, and how they came about. I hope that this may be encouraging for colleagues in Microsoft engaged in similar campaigns in the USA and elsewhere; I will also try to draw out some lessons from our experience that may be useful to others. This is a hot issue. Let’s fix it.


Simon Peyton-Jones

Simon is a researcher at Microsoft Research, where he focuses on the design and implementation of functional programming languages. He was one of the designers of Haskell and is responsible for the widely used Glasgow Haskell compiler. More recently he has become deeply involved in the issues surrounding computer science in K-12 education. He co-founded the UK’s Computing at School working group, and serves as its chair.