On Thursday, U.K. education officials launched a 500,000 pound ($820,000) initiative to promote interest in programming and to train teachers. It’s called the “Year of Code,” yet the director freely admits that she doesn’t know how to code. Wonders never cease.
Director Lottie Dexter did an interview on Newsnight (a BBC current-events show kind of like the PBS NewsHour) and told longtime host Jeremy Paxman the exact status of her skillz. “I’m going to put my cards on the table, Jeremy. I can’t code. I’ve committed this year to learning to code … so over this year I’m going to see exactly what I can achieve,” Dexter said.
So this is weird, right? It’s not impossible for someone without programming skills to be a coding advocate, but it seems like an odd choice to position that person as the head of an effort that is supposed to incorporate tailored education and specific goals into a national movement.
Personal experience isn’t always generalizable, so even if Dexter already knew how to code, it wouldn’t make sense to simply spread education techniques based on what worked for her, but it is important for someone managing almost $1 million in public funds to have some expertise and be able to evaluate the best ways to engage people.
Jason Mayes, a Web designer and consultant, wrote on Google Plus that “[g]etting someone who does not understand a subject to define a curriculum for it is like me defining what doctors should study at med school.” Others chimed in on Twitter:
This was a car crash interview, not sure why Paxman didn't eviscerate her. Director of 'year of code' can't code http://t.co/H3Brw0N8pb--Jonathan Haynes (@JonathanHaynes) February 6, 2014
Lottie Dexter is the embodiment of how out of touch British politicians are with the real world outside their bubble http://t.co/DwyAlUHisw--Philip Tysoe (@igniteflow) February 7, 2014
Dexter also claimed during her Newsnight interview that teachers can be taught to program in a day and that people can make websites in an hour. The coding controversy taps into broader criticisms that the U.K.'s conservative Tory Party members, currently in power under David Cameron, are out of touch with technology and its impact. The liberal blog Political Scrapbook reports that Dexter got her appointment through Tory connections from previous jobs.
Whether or not programming skills should be a prerequisite for top jobs at Year of Code, Dexter probably should have been better prepared for her Newsnight interview. The silence while she struggled to explain programming was pretty damning.