I was born ‘89 and in the midlands of the UK, so I missed these programmes (although my mother didn’t and even as a non-techy person could write BBC basic on a C64, which is where I got my interest).
But growing up there were quite literally no resources to learn anything about computers or programming. All courses in school were “computing” which was Microsoft excel and word courses; if you were really lucky it would be Microsoft access. They were specifically tailored for office work, not understanding computers.
As I aged, I found courses on networking (specifically Cisco) in college, however they all closed the year before I could take them.
I did manage to take a college course but I had to commute 4.5hrs a day for 2 years to take it, which was quite demanding. And I was in the last group who could ever take that course. (It closed the year after I started, I was literally the last group in). And there the only thing they taught me programming related was Visual Basic. (Although they did teach me to crimp Ethernet cables).
Does anyone else have this experience in the UK? Did I just grow up in a bad area for computer science?
(I believe shortly after I left school they did start having lessons in programming though- maybe I am part of a weirdly lost generation)
If I recall correctly, the government made a decision at the time get rid of all the interesting stuff and change it to IT only with word etc. and that sounds like what you had to do. My opinion would be the raspberry pi movement was in part a direct response to this. Getting back to the old ways we taught kids in this country and providing the cheap accessible technology such as spectrums that people like me could actually have in their bedrooms. Plus every school i think had a BBC micro, which i think was pretty impressive foresight for the time.
I don't remember there being a lot of programming content in the school curriculum per se, but BASIC programming generally was absolutely massive back then. On the 8-bit micros we had at the time, it wasn't even possible to load a game without typing a BASIC command, and it was only a small step from there to writing small programs to print rude words on the screen.
Both I and an entire generation of UK programmers learned to program from the Usborne computing books, some of which they've now made available free in PDF form: https://usborne.com/browse-books/features/computer-and-codin...
There were computers dotted around the place run by enthusiastic maths, physics and design teachers, which occasionally made it into a lesson, but more commonly would be commandeered by the spoddy kids at break times, making programs to print rude words on the screen.
Our school brought in actual computing lessons a few years later, but they were "How To Do Word, You Peons" from day 1 (on the godawful slow PC-not-entirely-compatibles that somehow RM managed to trick schools into buying back then). I consider it a lucky escape I didn't have that to put me off the whole idea.
As an aside, nobody writes BBC BASIC on a C64. You write the C64 variant. BBC BASIC was specific to the BBC Computers. Many magazines and books had different listings for each machine. ;-)
I was awarded one of the first A* grades in the UK for GCSE Computer Science, because I was in the first year that was on the National Curriculum. My understanding is that within 2-3 years, the curriculum changed dramatically
In my generation, Logo programming was taught at primary school. BASIC was taught in "first year" (which is now Year 7), at secondary school. Most programming was taught though if you elected to do Computer Science in Year 10 onwards, and the GCSE required a project to be undertaken. Mine was a sort of theatre booking system.
I remember when about 14 talking to my deputy headteacher about the future of teaching computer science. She was convinced that it would die out before I graduated university because "computing would just be in every lesson". That was the direction the UK gov did take, and a wrong call IMHO.
By the time I got to A-Level, the curriculum was a mess. Most pupils had Amigas and Atari STs at home, the labs at my college were full of PCs and the programming part of the curriculum was QBasic led, but the text books were still talking about mainframes and punch cards.
The government seems to have tapped out and waited to see what would happen next. In a decade of doing STEM outreach, I found it infuriating that no real curriculum existed in schools other than how to use office tools. That seems to have changed now, but it's not exactly a great curriculum, still.
My mum only knew BBC Basic, so that's what was loaded first and I remember it distinctly. It may have been emulated, it certainly wasn't the default thing that came up when you powered the unit on, you had to "load" it from a tape deck and it took 30 minutes.
When I studied I.C.T, if the teacher knew how to code, she sure as hell didn't show it. What was it like with the BBC micros? Did the teacher know enough to teach the class? I know this is a problem with the current Computer Science curriculum.
But the real draw was playing video games, which was only permitted on weekends. Hours and hours of Chuckie Egg, Cylon Attack, Stryker's Run, etc.
Though for some the challenges in hacking games and redoing boot loaders did happen, it was more niche scene wise and not part of schooling.
One school I went to had "computer club" after school to use BBC Micros.
We were playing games on them: Thrust, Imogen and Repton.
When I was 6, I couldn't get beyond the 4th level. Now, I have completed a few of the level sets, but I'm still stuck on others.
This logical jump doesn't seem to make sense to me. Almost every developed country on earth used Microsoft Office in the second half of the 90s and the 00s. Why do you think in the UK it was specifically caused by it being taught in school, when it was also successful everywhere else when it was not taught in school?
> This logical jump doesn't seem to make sense to me. Almost every developed country on earth used Microsoft Office in the second half of the 90s and the 00s. Why do you think in the UK it was specifically caused by it being taught in school, when it was also successful everywhere else when it was not taught in school?
Because the reason why every developed country used Microsoft products was corruption (you can call it lobbying if you feel good).
That is a MAJOR jump, from teaching programming to teaching word processing.
These machines were all zero-setup hands-on BASIC environments. A lot of people used them for games, a smaller number typed in listings by hand from paper magazines, an even smaller number learned assembly programming.
It was incredibly easy and cheap to set up a games company. You wrote your game (hard - but not that hard), you paid a relatively small fee to have some tapes duplicated, you put an ad in the back of one or more magazines, and when the orders came in by post you sent them out by post. Marketing? Send games in for review and maybe hire a stall at a computer fair.
If the game was even slightly better than average it would sell.
The result was that anyone born between around 1960 and 1970 had cheap access to good-enough hardware on which to learn simple programming and a ready-made business model they could copy, all requiring next to no start-up capital.
There was a shake-out in the mid 80s. The PC arrived and business-ised the market, raising the cost of entry. Games became more challenging to develop as graphics techniques became more sophisticated. The 16-bit machines arrived, which took things up a level as dev tools started to cost real money.
So by the 90s the scene was an industry. Schools were largely irrelevant to it. Some schools had "computer clubs", and the BBC had promoted BASIC for a while, but in 1991 8-bit BASIC started to be replaced by VB, which wasn't a school-level topic. Windows 3.1 programming was hugely more complex than either BASIC or assembler and the tools were insanely expensive. By now the cost of entry was far beyond the resources of most teens/students, and alternatives like Delphi (Pascal) couldn't sell directly to schools like Microsoft could. And even if they could, most parents weren't going to buy their kids a PC to play on, because PCs cost as much as a car.
Schools taught Office because there was no longer a useful entry-level for developers. And anyone who'd been up through the 80s was now working as a developer and getting paid a lot more than they'd get as an ICT teacher.
tl;dr the industry cut out the educational system. "Business-ising" the technology starved a generation of access to affordable computing and the high cost of entry made it very difficult for talented teens to build the next generation of businesses.
The second part is much more of an issue than the first part.
My father was a teacher at a fairly expensive private school, where the pay was a fair bit higher than normal. The ICT teacher was a friend of my dad's, and helped me if he visited. He could do some programming, and taught the students using robots (Fischertechnik and later Lego) and Visual Basic. Both were options on the curriculum, but many ICT teachers chose the "easier" options, i.e. word processing, graphics, presentations.
The robots lent themselves very well to introductory programming. There was a model of automatic sliding doors, a fork-lift truck (with a light sensor for line following), and a lift. All had appropriate sensors and switches to control them, and the computer had software to program graphically, or in text.
Though iirc there is some history about the building used and current RPi production - though that may be that they are both in Wales.
But many great initiatives back then, then we just sold it all off/let it go.
ICL sold to microsoft, Inmos....history footnote.
Only thing that lasted was ARM and even that was sold off.
RPi been amazing at capturing those early days, but never be the same as early days, that was it, today - choice saturation and that boils down to games based systems like consoles and indeed phones soaking up the attention of the masses.
There was a BBC Micro at primary school.
We didnt have any sort of structured way of learning it (or maybe I was just too young).
There was educational material, like "grannies garden", and "pod" where you could type "pod can pop" to make the poor tomato explode.
Because it booted straight into BBC Basic I quickly found out how to print things with different colours to the screen.
I went to 3 different secondary schools and they all had BBC Micros, Archimedes and PCs.
There didnt seem to be any teaching about programming.
There were books around about stuff about 6502, but it was a bit beyond me at age 12.
The kids interested in computers would go and use them at the lunch breaks.
By the 90s the only computing related teaching was about how to use word processors.
Later I took computer studies at college where we learned coding proper, funnily we still had an "ICT" module, which was really "how to type".
About that time these kinds of magazines (which I think my Dad brought back from work) started to discuss and show adverts for the early 8 bit machines. My interest switched from electronics to programming.
There was no way my family could afford even a kit. I remember hanging around a store like Curry's that sold the early computers and typing in simple 2 and 3 line programs to print things to the screen. The shop assistants had a full time job resetting the machines to stop the endless scrolling of rude words or our names.
Around 1984 my grandfather was made redundant and used some of the money to buy us a BBC Micro. It changed my life.
Until reading your post I had assumed that the late 80's when I was studying computing at college and then university were a time of massive boom in computing education - that I was at the forefront of a massive wave of programmers being educated up. I realize I was very, very lucky.
I was also super-lucky that my dad was the caretaker of a primary school and I was able to go in while my dad was cleaning in the evenings and use their BBC Micros.
Such happy days and pleasant memories!
At high school we had a computer room filled with RM Nimbus PCs, but nobody to teach IT. They were used mostly for word processing and simple DTP by teachers of other subjects. I found out the computer room was empty during PE lessons so I used to hide there when skiving off from football practice.
All my computer knowledge back then came from computer magazines and messing around on my Amstrad CPC and then Amiga. It was actually damned hard to get decent programming information, especially if you had no money. Libraries only had books for C64, or first-wave home computers like the ZX81. I don't think I ever saw an Amstrad CPC book in the wild.
I found it very frustrating to be honest. Definitely set back my programming career. It took me years to go from initial interest to professional programmer, largely because I had no access to learning materials.
By 1983, I had written my first commercial software (to control a laser light-show for one of my Dad's night-clubs) and moved on to 'real computers' - in my case, an Oric-1 and then an Amstrad CPC6128 which I wired up to a modem, and with which I promptly discovered Unix and C programming on a local university system, courtesy of a friends' login being provided to me for the purpose of testing my modem ...
In the 90's, things took a turn for the worse in my opinion, when everything became Microsoft-oriented, and the field was renamed to "IT" instead of Computer Science. I watched with dismay as a lot of my colleagues and associates, still in school (where I'd dropped out of high school), learned "Visual Basic" and other such nonsense.
It really seems like there was a period in the 90's where computer education went backwards.
But nowadays, people are realising that all these old machines still work, and are still quite relevant when it comes to teaching kids how computers work. A day with a raspberry Pi is one thing - but a week with an 8-bit machine is another thing entirely, and between these two worlds, big connections can be made by the budding student of computer science.
I don't know how much things have changed in the 10 years I've been out of education, but back then you had to take learning into your own hands to get a glimpse of any real computing.
In the early years while I was at primary school, there was a ZX Spectrum, which was exclusively used for young kids to play games on - at some point it must have broken though, because it disappeared and was never seen again :(
Later on a BBC microcomputer appeared, but this was guarded fiercely by the head in her office (I guess she used it for typing?!). On the 1 or 2 occasions it was brought out (literally 1 or 2, I guess the school inspectors were in or something...), we played around with Logo and the Turtle - but that was it.
At secondary school, there was a computing department filled with PCs, with 1 teacher to around 30 pupils. Perhaps by design because of that poor ratio, the tasks were ridiculously simple - I recall finishing 50-minute lessons in less than 5 minutes. You'd leave secondary school with no more knowledge than how to type in a 2nd-rate word processor and how to add 2 cells together in a 2nd-rate spreadsheet - as you say, the whole thing was tailored towards simple office work.
I agree about the lack of resources - there was essentially nothing in schools. There weren't many technical books available through libraries either, or if there were I couldn't find them. My father bought a regular magazine, PC World (I loved it!), but until the internet came along, that was the sum total of my bank of computing knowledge.
So, yeah, if I hadn't been lucky enough to be in a middle-class family with computers at home, I'm sure my entire life now would be completely different.
The good news is I have a younger brother born in '98 and his experience was entirely different. They were using computers all through primary school and were taught Python at high school.
It's amazing the difference just ten years can make.
When I was 10 I went to the library and managed to get hold of a book on C. I took it home, studied it and then typed the programs into Notepad on Windows 95. I had no compiler and no internet. It was literally years before I actually ran a program I had written.
Didn't help that there was no internet at home, but that's not the fault of the curriculum.
Did your school not follow the national curriculum?
Computer science content was there during the period you (and I) were at school it just wasn't made very clear that it was computer science. Maybe this is a good thing? Just teach it like a regular part of what people are already doing in their fundamental classes.
I think you will have done data structures and algorithms in the discrete part of your maths A-level, including sorting and graph algorithms, and asymptotic analysis.
You will possibly also have had the option of a computing A-level, which featured genuine CS topics like data normal forms, assembly programming, and memory allocation.
I think people are unfairly hash when they talk about previous UK CS education in schools.
I don't know of other countries routinely teaching their 16 year olds asymptotic analysis of Dijkstra's algorithm.
I am just 3 years older, but in Year 2 (age 6-7) at primary school we wrote programs on the computer in Logo, and then connected that to the floor turtle to trace the pattern onto paper.
A couple of years later, the only work we did on the computer was word processing.
My introduction to computers beyond playing games was from my dad, who had brought an PC back from work around 93/94, with windows and VB3, and a modem a year or so later. The "Learn X in 24 hours/21 days" books were really good for bootstrapping -- I remember the VB and TCL/TK ones
(There was some turn-based strategy-game too, where you had to raise taxes, and get elected. I recall almost nothing about it.)
But the literacy program convinced my mum and dad to buy the BBC Micro in the first place, and I learned to program 6502, and then ARM2 on its successor, and right now I have a job and am very thankful for it, and for my parents foresight.
For Younger and non UK people CSE where the exams for those that where mostly going to leave school at 16.
A few years later I went back for an open day and they'd moved to PCs, but reduced the programming content.
I paid £4.50 to sit the exam sight unseen, did the programming exercises and got a grade B.
Just saw it as a cheap and easy qualification. :-)
I remember not being impressed, (so you're right), but I was a working class kid who'd had it drummed into him that qualifications of any kind were a passport to a professional career.
In the real world, outside of BBC fantasies about its own importance, no kid in the 80s (ie, an inconsequential number) became computer literate a) at school or b) on a BBC Micro or c) due to a boring TV series about a computer they didn't own, couldn't afford and couldn't use, because virtually no teacher had any idea what to do with one.
Sir Clive Sinclair (character assassinated by the BBC in a drama about itself, Micro Men) is virtually single-handedly responsible for the computer literacy of British kids in the (certainly early/mid) 1980s, producing the affordable multi-million selling computers they actually used, typed programs into and established a gigantic British gaming industry with.
Well, I lived in the real world. And not even in the UK and if it wasn't for the BBC micro I probably would have picked a different career. It had a lot more impact than you give it credit for, I know plenty of people who, like me, really grokked computers for the first time because the 'beeb' and the excellent software and documentation that came with it.
By then I'd already consumed a lot of other 8 bitters but none of them offered the interfaces, the quality of engineering and the software that the bbc did, including a very nice version of basic, which was light years ahead of whatever else was available at that time.
I could point to the UK demo scene and resulting rise in the gaming industry as an example of efficacy. If not directly then at least fostering a culture that made it possible.
DMA design (later called rockstar games) was borne entirely out of this culture. I think it’s not right to underplay the BBC micro in this area.
But I wasn’t born, I could be wrong.
DMA/Rockstar is in fact a prime example of the later echoes - see also Ocean, Ultimate, Gremlin et al - of that Sinclair-inspired industry; its origins are in a Scottish computer club in the early 80s, using and writing games for the Spectrum.
(As an aside, GTA itself was probably influenced by a popular and pioneering Spectrum game from 1986, Turbo Esprit).
We weren't allowed to program them out of fear that we would break them.