What does Lottie know?

…or… “I know nothing about coding, but by golly I know how important it is. The IT consultancy invoice is in the post.”

BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones asks whether the so-called “Year of Code” is a vital educational mission or PR fiasco. Now Cellan-Jones is a highly experienced journalist, but in this case he appears to have jumped aboard the latest IT bandwagon, and in the process dumped his usual critical journalistic approach.

Some of the criticism of the Year of Code follows its fronting by dynamic young PR executive Lottie Dexter, who in a series of excruciating television interviews admitted to knowing nothing of coding. Dexter’s defenders responded by saying that if 90% of the population is equally if not more ignorant of software engineering, it makes perfect sense to have the coding campaign’s chief evangelist drawn from this pool of technology ignoramuses. This is classic PR damage limitation at work.

Substantive criticism of the Year of Code centres on its lack of big picture educational perspective. It comes back as always to poor mathematical and scientific literacy in the population at large, and an unwillingness on the part of policymakers and educationalists to address this deficiency in teaching and science and engineering communication.

Educational missions such as the Year of Code should be fronted by people who know what they are talking about, can communicate effectively in public, and display a passion for their subject. There is no shortage of such people out there, if you bother to look for them. The programmes should also focus on the substantive issues glossed over by Cellan-Jones and other media reporters and commentators.

As it stands, the Year of Code campaign is managerialist bollocks. Computer coding, that of Flappy Bird included, is about more than building simple websites. It requires an understanding of calculus, physics and engineering, yet calculus was dropped from the National Curriculum at GCSE (age 16) level, and the treatment of physics and engineering is largely devoid of mathematical content.

Mathematics, science and engineering are vitally important, and they are also exciting when taught well. When the evangelists for coding admit shamelessly to their ignorance of such subjects, we have a serious problem, and the Year of Code will do nothing to solve it.