Computing: Consider the Market, what floats a prole’s boat?

What problem does Computing solve for the ‘proles’, the technologically unwashed?

This is another one of Doug Richard’s questions.

One idea doing the rounds is the idea that whatever you pitch to a ‘prole’ must survive  “The Penny Test”, which suggests that the entire primary teaching profession is populated by Mrs Merton and is therefore change phobic and hormonal.  That is a really flawed strategy.  It will build resentment and enable people to dismiss the message they should be buying because it reinforces stereotypes and mysogney. They will not even hear the pitch if we use this analogy to help us formulate a plan.

Proles are not defined by age, gender or floral skirts – they are defined by experience and culture.  And there are plenty of them.  Consider the numerical size of the challenge.

  • Less than 1% of English primary teachers have ever written a computer programme. [ unsubstantiated but generous estimate]
  • There are 440,000 primary teachers in England
  • Less than 10 % of those teachers have spent any more than 2 years outside and educational establishment since they were 4. ( And therefore had a chance to encounter coding in the workplace.
  • Therefore, there are possibly 396,000 teachers who have invested their professional and [sometimes] personal identity in School.  Computing means change, it threatens the very nature of being of many teachers.
  • The twitterverse is small.  It echoes back your own views. Ignore it.

Computing is still a prototype curriculum.

Consider the The Chasm, part of The Theory of Diffusion of Innovations.

So far we have converted the Innovators and some early adopters, the early majority, the ones who will make this change sticky are still out of reach.  The truth about Innovators is that they back as many donkeys as they do thoroughbreds, we are still waiting for the early adopters to sift the conceptual wheat from the chaff as far as Computing is concerned.

We might have a new subject, we have yet to sell it successfully.  We are preparing to leap the chasm into mainstream.

Cultural Capital of the prole:

Now consider the cultural capital of the “proles” we seek to seduce:

1) They see video games as a waste of time and agent for the destruction of the fabric of society.

2) They exhibit symptoms of anxiety when asked to enter a password more complex than their dog’s name into an online application.

3) They attribute agency to inert objects like computers….”its not letting me”

4) They see technology as responsible for the decay of relationships and the depersonalisation of society.

5) They give away huge lumps of personal data online, through ignorance.

6) They see games developers and programmers as people playing with a hobby, waiting to get a proper job.

7) They still search for web addresses in google, rather than typing straight into the address bar.

The question we face is this:

How do we persuade those people that Computing is:


solves a problem that they have, 

get them to buy in and teach it?

To do this you must think like a prole.

What is important to the ‘proles’ ?

‘Proles’ pride themselves as helping children grow as individuals, they like to create concrete things that can be celebrated, they value skills as much or more than knowledge, they know what they like and they like what they know.  They like thinking skills frameworks like Building Learning Power and brain gym, they hold handwriting in higher esteem than typing.  They despise tests, yet subject children to interminable periods of test preparation.  They keep beebots in the cupboard to stop them being damaged.  They like systematic and methodical working.

What problems do they have?

Getting children to make progress, workload and pensions.

What does Computing do to solve those problems?

Algoritmic thinking is hugely valuable as a thinking skill.

Checking errors in work is debugging, analogue debugging skills are prized at school.

Making is nice, if Computing yields nice artefacts, preferably in groups to develop skills, then it’s a winner.

Difficult Truth:

For a prole, because of their cultural capital profile, code presents another problem, not a solution.

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