Today’s paper reports concerns about the amount of tax being paid by Google in Australia. Google’s response is that it stays within the law. Hmm… sometimes, Google, it’s not about just passively not being evil, it’s about being positively good.
Anyway, it makes me feel slightly better when I find that some of Google’s extraordinary profits are going into a great cause – albeit in the UK.
A little while ago Google’s Eric Schmidt criticised the UK’s computer curriculum saying the UK was throwing away its great computing heritage by focusing on using software rather than how it was made. That’s a view I applaud and have been banging on about in relation to Australian education for some time. Teaching kids to change a font colour in Powerpoint or upload a picture to Facebook is not true computer education. Eric Schmidt, however, can go beyond banging on – he can do something about it.
The first step was that the British Education Secretary actually listened and changes were made to the curriculum to incorporate programming and other technical skills.
Now Google in the UK has partnered with a local charity to pay for “more than 100 first rate science teachers over the next three years, with the majority focused on computer science”. Each of the 100 teachers will have a small bursary to buy equipment relating to their teaching. The incredibly successful Raspberry Pi, a low-cost computer designed in the UK, will be used in the scheme. This is good because the Raspberry Pi was originally conceived as a tool to help kids learn programming. However it’s been so wildly popular with hobbyists that it’s nigh-on impossible for kids to get hold of it. Maybe Google can also jump the queue a bit.
But returning to the main point. Teaching kids how to actually manipulate a computer gives them skills they can use in any technological environment. It also gives them a mindset that says they are in charge of the technology rather than just hanging on grimly while the technology takes them to a destination set by wizards who actually understand how the magic works. It’s not about teaching every kid to become a programmer; it is about providing them a deeper understanding of, and control over, a tool that takes centre-place in their modern life. And if some do become programmers or scientists, that’s to the good as well. But you have to start somewhere, as Eric Schmidt said:
“Rebooting computer science education is not straightforward. Scrapping the existing curriculum was a good first step – the equivalent of pulling the plug out of the wall. The question is now how to power up.”
It’s wonderful to see Google putting money into trying to power up science and computing education in the UK. Maybe if Google paid more than that $75,000 in tax in Australia our Government could afford to hire a few more science teachers too. But failing that, maybe Google could use some of its enormous profits, from the $1 billion it earns in revenue from the Australian market, to do similar good here. We could do with some help pulling on that plug.