By Hugh Milward, Director of Corporate Affairs, Microsoft UK
Computer Science Education Week kicks off on Monday and we’re supporting events around the country with Microsoft staff, BBC micro:bits and even the phenomenally popular Minecraft franchise, all in an effort to enthuse kids about the world of computer science.
We have made significant progress in this area in recent years – the introduction of a Computing curriculum in 2014 for pupils over five was a big step. However, the fact remains that only 4,000 pupils chose to sit a Computing A-Level last year. We need to do more and come up with new ways to show pupils how exciting, how creative and how useful computer science can be. That is exactly why we turned to Minecraft, a game which boasts an incredibly passionate fan base and over 100 million registered users.
The week is geared towards encouraging young people to do an Hour of Code, an introductory lesson which walks you through the very basics to some more complex coding challenges. We decided to partner with Code.org to create an Hour of Code Minecraft tutorial, and on Tuesday we’ll be taking 20 pupils to Downing Street to show the Education Secretary, Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP, just how the tutorial works.
I can’t think of many better ways to expand the reach of Hour of Code than to set the tutorial in a Minecraft environment, so familiar to the millions of young people who love the game. They’ll use blocks of code to guide an adventurer through a Minecraft world and overcome challenges along the way. Staggeringly, in a matter of weeks since it went live on November 16th over two million people have logged on and started their coding adventure. We’re hoping to reach many more over the next week.
On Tuesday, we welcome more than 500 hundred students to our annual Think Computer Science event hosted by Microsoft Research Cambridge. Students will get a head start with Touch Develop for the BBC micro:bit, a coding platform we developed especially for young coders and they’ll complete an ‘Hour of Code’. There is also a science fair to explore with technology demonstrations from Microsoft and guests, giving students the opportunity to explore the link between computer science and biology, create Xbox games with Kodu and Project Spark, play with virtual reality, and much more besides.
I’m always amazed when I get the chance to see a new Microsoft Research project, and our aim here is to inspire that same feeling of wonder and amazement. Using cutting edge, engaging tech you can show young people the real potential of digital skills and get them excited about computer science.
We’re not just teaching young people though, we’re also educating Members of Parliament about the power of computer science. On Wednesday members of our Microsoft team will run an event in the Houses of Parliament, using BBC micro:bits and Hour of Code tutorials to show MPs the importance of digital skills. A class of pupils from Eastlea Community School, who have being creating projects with their BBC micro:bits for the last few weeks, will be on hand to teach the MPs a thing or two.
All of these initiatives are just part of our $75 million global commitment to computer science education. There is absolutely no doubt that we need more computer scientists in the UK, and more tech literate young people who can succeed in a world which relies more and more heavily on the creative power of technology. We have a responsibility to show the next generation the possibilities which can be open to them if they learn these skills. To that end I would encourage everyone, young and old, to do the Hour of Code Minecraft tutorial. I certainly plan to have a go with my kids – although I suspect I might need their help more than they need mine.