Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Cracking the Code of Functional Skills?

This week at the newly established #ukfechat the topic was “Making Functional Skills Fun,” which is not an area that I have had much involvement with. 

I was quite shocked with the basic level that Functional Skills can include in the post-16 learning environment within UK Further Education Colleges.

It is a few years since I was at school but, "when I was a lad" I am sure that even the most disruptive or least able students were able to read and write by the time they left school.

However, as this can be a hidden issue, maybe the levels were about the same, so it may be more of a case that in "days gone by" colleges were able to apply different selection criteria for prospective students, and were able to turn away students who did not have these basic skills. 

Whatever the case I had not considered the extent to which colleges had to deal with, accommodate and factor Functional Skills into the curriculum. The discussion reminded me that FE is the one of the few safe havens left for vulnerable groups who have been let down by "the system."

NB: This is in no way meant as a criticism to school educators, I fully appreciate the complexity of the issues and that It takes a village to raise a childwe have parents that can't be parents or that living in poverty can mean that some students are too traumatized for school.

During the discussion there were comments that Functional Skills had a poor reputation among students, and a comment was made that students at one college had labeled Functional Skills as “The Muppet Class"

While some people are talking about the subject that "most schools don't teach" is computer code, we were discussing young adults who had not achieved proficient levels of reading and writing.

Considering some of the points discussed during the chat, I wondered if it would be possible to "mash up" some of these ideas...

As you can see from this video - coding is super cool at the moment "Its the closest thing you get to having Super Powers" or, who is supporting STEM in the UK with the Princes' Trust's "XL Clubs", commenting that "Coders are our rockstars"

So what would happen if Functional Skills classes got re-branded to be a "Coding class"? Would and could this work?

This would be something where even the best reader would need to scale their skills right back and start with very simple words, commands, text, scripts and actions... But they would still be learning some in-demand and useful skills. At the same time this could be at a level that less able students would be able to understand.

The added advantage is that with coding, students could work on projects that appeal to their course and/or interests. Check this video about MIT's Scratch platform -

There is also the fact that Codeorg is looking to raise awareness of how important coding is in the work place. On their website they say;

"Every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn to code"

Before you can code you need to be able to read... Could this idea help those who can't read so well to be more engaged with learning and, at the same time, learn a new and valuable skill?

For more information there are some great resources on Codeorg website:

As well as helping with Functional Skills, could this idea be the “great equalizer” for low income students and help the unemployed teenagers who blame the lack of computer skills to find new employment opportunities?

Before you can code basic, you need to cover the basics… could FE Colleges do both at the same time?

1 comment:

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