My son has started coding. He’s only five and I reckon we may have to expand the definition of coding a little, but he has joined something called Coding Club at his school. It involves him and his classmates sitting at computers and, well, I’m not sure what happens after that, since he observes a Fight Club-style omertà when it comes to anything he does at school.
He is familiar with computers and often joins me in my office – his baby sister’s bedroom – while I work on these very articles. It would be charming if I could say he’s helped much in their writing, perhaps offered a paragraph or two you’ve enjoyed – but this has not been the case. He mostly enjoys opening a new document and using the keyboard to write the longest, rudest words he can spell (‘poo-trampoline’ being a favourite) and I am left to do the grunt work myself.
I read that Coding Club uses a game-based platform that enables students to ‘code sprites to move around in different environments’ in which they make ‘rockets, trucks, spiders and even Cinderella!’ It sounds impressive, so I look online to find the module and try it myself. I am presented with a cheery little penguin suspended in the void. As I move said bird, a readout displays his grid coordinates. There are dozens of toolbars and dropdown tabs which, I presume, allow you to do magnificent things with this penguin, but after about four minutes I realise I have no idea what I’m doing and return to my oppressive deadlines.
My own instruction in computing was mostly at home. I was lucky in that my dad was an early adopter, who first caught the tech bug in the 90s. As a civil engineer, his job had little to do with computers, but his fondness for anything square, beige and bleeping meant he was drafted as an ad-hoc IT department for his office and our garage soon became an angular graveyard of discarded CPUs, printers, scanners and servers, with which he would mess, fiddle and, occasionally, perform resurrections. It was here that my little brother and I spent a large part of our childhood, setting up battered servers and mounting local area networks to play Doom on salvaged PCs. We repaid our dad by telling him, ‘You’re doing it wrong’ the second our skills overpassed his own.
The instruction I received in school was paltry in comparison. I did my GCSE in ICT in 2002, a year before the curriculum was updated, working from decade-old textbooks that referred exclusively to ‘electronic mail’ and mentioned the internet only briefly by saying ‘as many as 4 million people may soon be on the world wide web’. An accurate number for 2002 would have been 560m, it’s now almost 6bn, my son among them.
I won’t have him falling behind. When he comes in from school, I show him I have the module right here at home and wiggle the little penguin around for his edification. ‘Daddy,’ he says, ‘you’re doing it wrong,’ and something inside me dies.
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats