There is one very significant factor about the early years of computers in schools. Computers invariably started up at the “Command Line Interface”. There was no mouse; there were no icons on screen to choose from; just a “Prompt”. The dash in the image below was flashing and its purpose was to invite you to use the keyboard to enter some text.

BASIC Prompt

The start-up screen on a BBC Model B computer

If you typed a word and pressed the “Return” key (named after the “Carriage Return” lever on a typewriter), the screen would respond. If the computer recognised the word, it would do something. If not it would tell you that your “Command” was not recognised.

You had two options:

  • you could type the command needed to load a program, or
  • you could program the computer yourself using the built-in programming language, BASIC.

This meant that many children found themselves learning to write computer programs using BASIC simply by experimenting (or as they saw it, playing). Many of these children, now in their thirties, are working as programmers and they are creating the coding programs being used in schools today to meet the new Computing curriculum.

Today’s computers and tablets, with their icons, mice and touchscreens, mean that children no longer get that coding experience.

ICT or Computing?
The significance of this is important. Coding was actually included in the ICT National Curriculum from Day 1 but it was generally very poorly taught and Britain slipped in its skills base. So from September 2014 the subject was changed to Computing and all children must now learn coding as a school subject.

Next: The National Curriculum

© Brian Smith 2015