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I was recently asked to go out and participate in the Drumbeat Festival, organised by Mozilla focused on web education and many facets around it.  At first I didn’t know why I should go – I’m web developer type, so how does that fit in?  It was in Barcelona and once I found i knew of couple of people that’d be there (Chris MillsAnna Debenham), I went with an open mind.

My own story of the web and education is maybe slightly old.  At school we didn’t use PC’s (it was the early 90′s – think we had something called Archimedes) and the Internet started to show itself while I was at college, so I guess the closest experience was when I went to university as a mature student in the early 00′s.  I looked around for a more web-centric course because I felt like I didn’y ‘get’ programming and that I felt I needed to in order to do things I wanted to on the web.  The closest course I found (and could get on to) was Multimedia Systems.  It had a web module and to be honest it was massively out of date the lecturer tasked with it clearly wasn’t enthralled with having to deliver it.  Since then I’ve met loads of people that have come through university and college courses with a wide variety of outcomes.  The overriding factor is that the ones that come out great probably went in either already interested or doing it and did loads of experimentation or freelancing while doing it.

I spent most of my time around the webcraft ‘tent’ hearing about P2P University and participating in discussions around various aspects of web education, accessibility and more.  As with most events like this, it is all about the people you meet and through the crowd we ended up being, eating and drinking together to questioning and deconstructing ideas during sessions, I found it really inspiring.  It was great being able to talk about tools I’m familiar with to people that had never heard of them and hear from completely different perspectives.  From the enthusiasm and knowledge from Dave Stone and Josh Russell over a late beer on the first night right through meeting so many interesting people (SandiHennyJoeChristianNickDeesAnna to name a few), I’m buzzing from it!

So far as education, it was clear from the reaction when Anna gave her keynote that most people weren’t aware of not only how out of date and inconsistent teaching out the web is but that this has a direct correlation to how we’re equipping our future workforce and that it’s no wonder the IT industry can’t find enough good people.  Hopefully she’ll be building up more information on this from around the world on a wiki to try and gain a wider knowledge base with which to push the matter further with those in the know.  It’s really sad (as Anna included in her talk) that we’re teaching children to learn Office tools for the generic desk jobs they may end up with but not about the web – even making a basic website without using the  export functionality found in Office tools.  Kind of shock to be told that in some places children are taught that you can make a website easily by export from Word or Powerpoint into HTML.  Yup, as developers that’s all we do!  Not only does this discourage anyone from really engaging with the web but also from engaging with computing beyond the common software tools.  These people may grow up to be future clients!  Not good.

Back in the land of cold and rain, I have a head full of questions and answer for some questions I already had but also a rekindled curiosity for the education side of things.  If the established route of teaching about the web moves too slowly and will not change to meet the faster, more dynamic pace of the web what other routes can we use to help introduce school children to what the web is and how easily they can create on that platform themselves?

Big thanks to Pippa for getting me out there – such a great experience!

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8th November, 2010