As digital technologies become

embedded in our everyday world,

and as ubiquitous computing becomes

commonplace, we need to consider how

to better educate people about computer

science concepts, regardless of

their (professional) goals in life. Realizing

the value of having basic programming

skills and an understanding of

core computer science concepts, the UK

is working to provide its schools with a

new product, called the BBC micro:bit

(www.microbit.co.uk), that could put

pervasive computing at the center of

computer science education.

A New Core Skill

Teaching computer science should no

longer be viewed as teaching a trade or

providing training for coders. In many

ways, it’s becoming similar to needing

to learn your native language in school.

Teachers push pupils to analyze and

construct poems, write short stories,

or read theater plays. They don’t do

this with the primary goal of creating

the next generation of writers or poets.

Learning a language is seen as a cultural

skill that lets you use verbal communication

and written text effectively

in a variety of contexts—from writing

a job application letter to completing

your PhD thesis. This language education

might encourage some students to

become writers, but even those who go

on to become, say, financial consultants,

will use the skill throughout their lives.

In a similar way, understanding computing

technologies, programming, and

computational concepts has become

a core skill for informed participants

in modern society—much like reading,

writing, and basic arithmetic are

core skills. Without basic computing

knowledge, it’s difficult to understand

how Google sorts and personalizes

your search results (and contemplate

whether you’re being manipulated by

the results), understand what it means

to give an app access to your camera

and the network, decide between endto-end

or server-based encryption, or

understand how Amazon “guesses”

what you like. Allowing illiteracy with

regard to computational concepts will

create a major digital divide.

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