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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Tue Jan 10, 2012 11:17 am

Narishma said:

I think that's the problem with this thread. Some people are talking about old BASICs like the ones found on early 8bit computers while others are talking about modern versions with optional line numbers, procedures, objects and whatnot which are really not that different from Java, Python or C#.
Yes but you can also find Object Oriented Cobol, with all the fancy features you mention and more.  I wouldn't recommend that either.

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Tue Jan 10, 2012 5:26 pm

hippy said:


K&R C being superseded and C++ being a development upon C


C++ is not a development of K&R C, it"s a wholly new language implemented on top of C.  C99 is a development of K&R.  C++ is merely a hopelessly complex abomination

hippy said:


I don"t think anyone"s saying Basic isn"t good enough per se


I am. In my opinion, BASIC is useless as a teaching language, as it lacks the means to adequately express anything beyond the most "basic" of concepts. There are no concepts expressible by BASIC which cannot be equally easily expressed in other, more capable, languages.  And that goes for the more "modern" BASICs as well as the horrible 8-bit ones.

Indeed, I"d go further.  Extending BASIC is a pointless exercise unless, like C++, you go way beyond what BASIC is, at which point you have another language that has some BASIC-like syntax.  Syntax, of course, being irrelevant, except where you"re talking about beginners, where "as little pointless syntax as possible" is king.  Arguing about whether brackets should be square instead of round or vice versa when the language is fundamentally incapable of passing arguments to a function is like arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin – you can do it, heatedly, for as long as you like, but it won"t solve any of the fundamental problems.

In short, use another language.  BASIC is rubbish.

John Beetem said:


Chromatix said:


GOSUB relies on global variables, because it does not take parameters or return results.  That"s *really* bad – even assembly does not really work that way.


Actually, I would say that assembler / machine languages for most popular architectures do exactly that.  ARM"s Branch and Link instruction just jumps to the subroutine while setting the Link Register (R14) to the return address.  Arguments and results are passed via global resources like general-purpose registers and the stack.


Registers and stack are inherently transient, inherently "local".  Take the following examples (we'll stick with the ARM calling convention, but I could use pretty much any other one, I think):

I have a function that takes 3 32-bit arguments, and returns one.  The calling convention states that I pass the first argument in r0, the second in r1, the third in r2, and that I must retain the values of r4-r12.  r0-r3 are considered "throwaway", and r0 is used to return a value.

As I am passing 32-bit values *by value*, the values my function receives in r0-r2 are inherently local – on return, r0 is guaranteed to be blown away by the return value and r1-3 aren"t guaranteed to be anything at all.

Next – I have a function that takes a structure or other >32-bit value as an argument (again, passed by value).  This is passed on the stack frame.  Again, on function exit, this is not guaranteed to be in place, as unwinding the stack on function exit automatically places the frame out of scope.

The only way to get around the implicit locality of passed-in variables is to pass by reference, where, instead of passing the value, I pass a pointer to the value (which can then be a value which is global, local to the calling function / one of its callers, or a mutable copy of some other variable).  The pointer itself, of course, is local to the called function, and if we want to change a pointer then we have to pass a pointer to a pointer, and so on.

Simon

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Tue Jan 10, 2012 6:19 pm


BASIC is useless as a teaching language, as it lacks the means to adequately express anything beyond the most "basic" of concepts. There are no concepts expressible by BASIC which cannot be equally easily expressed in other, more capable, languages.


(flame)

(that's me, you can see the glow on the horizon)

There are no concepts expressible in other, more capable, languages which cannot be equally easily expressed by BASIC .

8-bit basic grew into 32-bit basic of various sorts. The one I like is BBC basic as provided by Acorn.

You don't like basic. Fair enough. But if you look at all the various flavours some are better than others, and looking at what's common, you'll find most other languages are very similar.

Eg: Indenting has its analogues in the various basics, and you can indent if you wish. Other languages use different syntaxes to denote the same thing, but the end result is the same.

So teach the language of your choice, then move them on to others so they don't think that's the only way to do it.

(the glow is dieing down, but if you look carefully you can see the embers)

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Wed Jan 11, 2012 6:20 am

I"m sorry to be the one to break this to you, but ... ummm ... no.

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:00 pm

I'm in the BBC BASIC camp — remember all those wonderful mags and books with programs in them? I Ching, Black Jack, Bio-Rhythms, and most wonderful of all — John Conway's Game of Life. I'd have to dig mine out to find others; but if there is a chance that a fire will be lit, these little programs can do it.

That is exactly how many of us were led to become "geeks".  And they did so when we knew absolutely nothing about computers or computing languages.

Now, students are in the same position: they know nothing about computers except how to turn them on and use whatever is put in front of them. Surely this is the time to have another go at it!

At least they won't have to save their creations to an audio tape!

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Wed Jan 11, 2012 1:46 pm

tufty said:


I"m sorry to be the one to break this to you, but … ummm … no.


Er, sorry to break this to you , but YES.

But I would limit that Yes, to the important constructs.
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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Wed Jan 11, 2012 2:11 pm

tufty said:


hippy said:


I don"t think anyone"s saying Basic isn"t good enough per se


I am. In my opinion, BASIC is useless as a teaching language, as it lacks the means to adequately express anything beyond the most "basic" of concepts.




The following extract has been taken from:

Computing: A curriculum for schools

document. Tufty - May I ask which parts of it cannot be done using BBC BASIC? Note also the first line which encourages multiple programming language solutions. The part in italics below has been added by myself from references elsewhere in the document.

4.2 Programs
A student should know how to write executable programs in at least one language.

KS3
Sequence
Iteration
Choice, including
Relational operators
Simple use of AND and OR and NOT
How relational operators are affected by negation [e.g. NOT (a>b) = a=b]
Variables and assignment
Using a simple linear data structure, such as an array or a list
Abstraction via functions and procedures (definition and call), including
Functions and procedures with parameters
Programs with more than one call of a single procedure
Finding and correcting logical errors

KS4
Manipulation of logical expressions, e.g. truth tables, DeMorgan‘s rules, and boolean valued variables
Two-dimensional arrays (and higher).
Use of nested constructs: a loop body can contain a loop, or a conditional, or a procedure call, etc. Similarly for conditionals
Procedures that call procedures, to multiple levels. [Building one abstraction on top of another.]  This includes RECURSION. (Think Tower of Hanoi problem.)
Programs that read and write persistent data in files.

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Wed Jan 11, 2012 4:51 pm

JamesH said:


tufty said:


I"m sorry to be the one to break this to you, but … ummm … no.


Er, sorry to break this to you , but YES.

But I would limit that Yes, to the important constructs.


Well, I was responding rather to this:

Burngate said:


Error establishing a database connection

Oh, hang on, that's not what he said.  But I'll leave it in, because it's funny

Anyway, this is actually what he said.  Read  it carefully.

Burngate said:

There are no concepts expressible in other, more capable, languages which cannot be equally easily expressed by BASIC .

Not "eventually be expressed" (which would be true, mainly due to Turing-completeness), but "equally easily expressed".  Now, out of the top of my hat, I can probably come up with about 50 examples ranging from the relatively trivial to the "you'd need to implement a whole new language interpreter on top of BASIC to do it", which, although perhaps an educational exercise, can't be considered "equally easy".

Let's take, for example, Prolog.  It doesn't do anything that can't eventually be expressed in, for example, Lisp, but it is a language in its own right (and originally implemented as a DSL in Lisp).  I think anyone who's seen prolog would agree that there are significant and very useful features that cannot be easily expressed in the majority of other languages.

Or perhaps we could consider the idea of stack manipulation in Forth (or PostScript, if you want to be evil) compared to BASIC.

If you want to restrict it to "important constructs", how about linked lists?  Doubly linked lists?  Stacks?  Queues?  Deques? FIFOs? Semaphores?  Arrays that aren't restricted to one data type?  User defined structures?  Sure, you can implement them all in BASIC, but it's not even close to being "simple" in most cases.

@1aws - what you've described there is what I would consider extremely trivial, "basic" programming.

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Wed Jan 11, 2012 5:49 pm

The KS3 and KS4 requirements are undoubtedly informed by what BBC BASIC is/was capable of through the 1980s. It is therefore a tautology to state that BASIC is capable of supporting those requirements.

There is no mention there of structured data types or even the most basic forms of object-oriented programming (eg. containing all the data for a sprite in one place), which very quickly become a requirement for serious projects, *especially* games.  Dynamic memory management and the sorts of complex data structures covered in Computer Science 101 are similarly not even hinted at.

I was chafing at the lack of these long before I left secondary school, with the result that I got a starter edition of CodeWarrior and learned C and C++ by then.  I'm still using C daily at work, and often wish there was a universally better alternative.
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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Wed Jan 11, 2012 9:51 pm

Errrmmm. these are kids of 15 or 16 (KS4). who will not necessarily desire go further. Some graduate software engineers I know would struggle with this.

Kids need to enjoy it, need results and it needs to be fun.


If you want to restrict it to "important constructs", how about linked lists?  Doubly linked lists?  Stacks?  Queues?  Deques? FIFOs? Semaphores?  Arrays that aren't restricted to one data type?  User defined structures?


What about them? Read the post, its talking abut nested loops, if statements in loops and so on.


Dynamic memory management and the sorts of complex data structures covered in Computer Science 101 are similarly not even hinted at.


So? Let those who want to learn find out, they will and they will do well with encouragement. Bear in mind that those doing the teaching may not be computer programmers by trade or inclination.


@1aws – what you've described there is what I would consider extremely trivial, "basic" programming.


Its aimed at schoolkids - would you expect more?

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Wed Jan 11, 2012 10:07 pm

tufty said:


@1aws - what you've described there is what I would consider extremely trivial, "basic" programming.


What I have described is the proposed KS3 and KS4 curriculum as it stands just now. It will probably have revisions but I would suspect those might make it easier rather then more difficult. You just don't seem to appreciate the audience that this is intended for. Look to the equivalent maths syllabus for KS3/4 - Does it include partial fractions, calculus, vector cross products? Whilst there will always be some children who can do all these things several years before their peer group, they are the exception. Education cannot be run for the few.

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Thu Jan 12, 2012 9:52 am

Well yes, there is a limit to what the average child can be taught about programming.  But I don't think the simple concept of grouping several pieces of information about a single object (and then making one array containing these objects, rather than an array for each piece of information involved) is, or should be, beyond them - rather, it would make some of the tasks that *are* on the curriculum easier and less tedious.  Leaving it out just because the language used as a reference doesn't support such a thing is wrong.

And then there are the kids who really do learn faster than average, but just need guidance on what is useful to learn about.  If the language made available to them doesn't support pointers (or any kind of reference concept) or dynamic memory management (even with garbage collection), how will they learn about it unless they make the additional leap to setting up a new language to learn?

This is what the great minds of computing mean when they talk about BASIC "crippling the mind", although they probably had GOSUB in mind while saying so.

There was a time in primary school - on the edge of Toxteth, no less - when I was being given page after page of simple sums to do, because the school curriculum wasn't set up to take varying levels of ability into account.  I was bored out of my wits, and apparently this became a discipline problem.  It didn't help that I had been taught multiplcation only as a series of additions - conceptually simple but extremely inefficient and tedious.  Times-tables were just rote-learning, no attempt was made to explain how they were useful for bigger sums.

When somebody pointed out that multiplying by ten simply involved adding a zero to the end - which then led to the concept of long multiplication which is much more efficient - it was a revelation.  Four years later, with the help of homeschooling and then a good teacher, I had my Maths GCSE, twice as quickly from that moment as would be expected, and went on to complete the A-level before I was out of secondary.

With Computing being made an elective subject, it is no longer necessary to teach to the average ability or even the lowest common denominator.  Instead you can teach to the upper quartile or decile of ability because you have pre-selected for interest, which naturally *leads* to ability.  And this leads to children who reach the limits of KS4 at age 12 and then want to learn more.
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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Thu Jan 12, 2012 10:40 am

Chromatix said:

With Computing being made an elective subject, it is no longer necessary to teach to the average ability or even the lowest common denominator.  Instead you can teach to the upper quartile or decile of ability because you have pre-selected for interest, which naturally *leads* to ability.  And this leads to children who reach the limits of KS4 at age 12 and then want to learn more.

I have this very experience.  I learnt BBC BASIC at the age of 4 or 5.  I then taught myself Pascal then C using my Dad's university lecture handouts at the age of 10-12.  By the time I got to IT GCSE, I knew how to program better than any teacher at school.  There was not even a compiler on any computer at school!  They only taught MS Works.  This was in 1994, before they even used MS Office.  As a result, I never bothered doing any computing at A-Level or Degree level assuming that I would learn very little and opted for other subjects.

I think that schools should offer courses geared towards those that are able and interested.  I think that aiming the subject of programming to the bottom end of the bell curve is a waste of time.  Keep teaching them ICT!

Back on topic, I think that Scratch, Python and BASIC are suitable to give all children a taster of programming early on (KS2).  After they know the basics that are applicable to all languages, they can move on to something more advanced.  You can never know too many languages.  After all, it is best to use the language best suited to the task in hand.

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Thu Jan 12, 2012 9:10 pm

brian_reiter said:


Errrmmm. these are kids of 15 or 16 (KS4). who will not necessarily desire go further. Some graduate software engineers I know would struggle with this.


If you have graduate software engineers who would struggle with what was posted, they have absolutely no right to have a degree.  Or, alternatively, they have wasted 3 to 4 years of their time getting a degree which is utterly worthless.  Whichever way you look at it, it makes them lousy "software engineers".



If you want to restrict it to "important constructs", how about linked lists?  Doubly linked lists?  Stacks?  Queues?  Deques? FIFOs? Semaphores?  Arrays that aren't restricted to one data type?  User defined structures?


What about them? Read the post, its talking abut nested loops, if statements in loops and so on.


No, what was being talked about was "important constructs" in computer science.  In particular, the claim was made that BASIC was equally easy compared to any other language for "important concepts".  Data types, and particularly aggregation of inbuilt data types isn't just important, it's an absolutely fundamental part of computer science and programming in general.



@1aws – what you've described there is what I would consider extremely trivial, "basic" programming.


Its aimed at schoolkids - would you expect more?


Yes.  *Much* more.  As 1aws points out, this is a proposed curriculum for KS3 & 4. That covers 5 goddamn years of school, from age 11 to age 16.  Allowing for 3 school weeks a year, and one 35 minute period per week, that's the better part of 90 hours of computer science.  I would suggest that what was posted shouldn't take more than 2 terms, even for "average" kids, and the ones who "get it" should have pretty much all of the proposed KS3 stuff covered in 4 to 5 lessons.

If that is, in fact, what's being proposed *now*, then the people proposing it want to be taken out behind the shed with their beloved BASIC.

Simon

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Thu Jan 12, 2012 10:37 pm

Simon, may I direct you to the official document. I only reproduced a small part of the course namely KS3 and KS4 programming. There are other sections to the course like systems, communication etc. The proposed course outline can be found here:

http://www.computingatschool.o.....Curric.pdf

You appear to be thinking only of the brighter children. I don't want to scare you but I have posted below a copy of a couple of very basic foundation questions in a maths exam. Probably 2 of the harder questions.


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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Thu Jan 12, 2012 11:08 pm

I've only been mentally crippled by about 8 different versions of Basic, so you will have to bear with me.

Of those different dialects, every one I have used since about 1985 has provided the facility to write your own functions with parameters and brackets and stuff. ( And for the BBC Basic aficionados, I know BBC Basic did that before 1985 – I never used it much )

For the adventurous, some of them have even offered user defined types !

If you are prepared to write the code and solve the problems you can actually build pretty much any abstract data structure using nothing more sophisticated than an array and some variables – I once saw somebody build a fairly complete binary tree implementation in this way – why ? Because he could ! ( That was in C just before he had been told about dynamic data types and recursion )

The people with real talent will learn anyway – Chromatix's sig. "The key to knowledge is not to rely on people to teach you it." sums it up very well. These are the people who are still turning up at the admission tutor's desk looking like a reasonable prospect.

Then we look at the next slice of the curve – those who, if you sit them down, tell them how to do it and then support them through the process, will pick up the concepts pretty quickly in any language that you choose to inflict on them. Just put the caveat in somewhere: "Other languages are available".

The trouble is, these people are pretty capable, and will also be capable of doing other subjects, each of which have their own attractions.

( Just to make my assumptions clear, I suspect that the ability to program is not a simple single factor, but a combination of a number of factors, some possibly innate, some possibly experiential )

Next slice on the curve are a bunch of people for whom the choice of language might be important. I would suggest that for this group a language that allowed them to explore and make mistakes without making mistakes is at least as important as adding the complexity of some of the labour saving constructs we have become accustomed to. They may never be the people writing software to run nuclear power stations, but there is a real need for more people to be able to write software, including the much derided stock control program, the mid-range dynamic web sites and even the macros in the office productivity suites. We have to try and maximise this

After them come the people who will be happier doing other things.

There is a school of thought that anyone can be taught how to program. Personally, I don't believe a word of it.

Now that Eric Schmidt has pointed it out and it has suddenly become "official" that we are putting people off computing – in droves – we have the chance have redressing the issue.

Given the choice of having an elite few who can actually program really well, or an elite more who can program really well and a whole bunch of people who can program but less well I know which I would choose. If a modern Basic is the price we have to pay, then I still think the rewards are worth it – does that make me a consequentialist ?

The choice of language should not be our primary issue, although we will still have these discussions – the problem as I see it lies in the education system.

As long as the education system remains a caucus-race, driven by bogus statistics we will receive little in the way of confits [sic] – we need to take advantage of this opportunity give to us and try and get more people programming. The more energy we spend arguing amongst ourselves …

Let x = 5

Let x = x + 8

Rem edited to fix typo

Print x

13

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Thu Jan 12, 2012 11:25 pm

1aws said:


You appear to be thinking only of the brighter children. I don't want to scare you but I have posted below a copy of a couple of very basic foundation questions in a maths exam. Probably 2 of the harder questions.




Was VAT to be charged on this or did it come from China ?

But seriously - I would be more scared if this was an advanced question, although the bi-partite cyclic graph is a bit worse than the

11 + 7 = ?

at the end here.

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Fri Jan 13, 2012 12:16 am

Those problems are more complex than the ones I was being given at school when I started to learn programming.  I think I turned out all right.

What age group were they aimed at?  That might be the really shocking part.
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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Fri Jan 13, 2012 4:25 am

1aws said:


You appear to be thinking only of the brighter children. I don't want to scare you but I have posted below a copy of a couple of very basic foundation questions in a maths exam. Probably 2 of the harder questions.




I assume that these are an entrance exam questions for a 4 year old?  Why would any school target such a low point that should be taught at home when the child is very young???
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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Fri Jan 13, 2012 5:54 am

I'm about to be convinced to set BASIC on fire before I toss it out the window. I've been taking my first faltering steps with Active Python and I'm beginning to see Python as the language I'd been looking for for years that fills the gap between BASIC and C.

Just regret that it wasn't around when I needed it.

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Fri Jan 13, 2012 6:33 am

DavidS said:


I assume that these are an entrance exam questions for a 4 year old?  Why would any school target such a low point that should be taught at home when the child is very young???


I did GCSE Maths in England in 1992, and I remember very similar questions (there was also another paper which those students who wanted to get a mark above a C grade had to take, with the odd quadratic equation and some Euclidian geometry in it, but the whole affair was very heavy on the most basic of arithmetic, and the expectation for kids up to a C was a lot like what you see above).

Thing is, people aren't even being taught to this standard. Until a few years ago, I was working for an educational publisher which specialised in adult basic skills. The statistics are horrific; 1.7m adults in the UK have reading skills below those that the National Curriculum expects of 11-year-olds. I was building materials for plasterers which explained to them how to calculate the number of tiles they needed to cover a certain area of wall; and for cleaners which explained how long they could spend on each cubicle of a lavatory they were cleaning without going over their time allotment.

I don't have an answer to this stuff (God knows that I sweated blood over it in my old job and got precisely nowhere). As I've said elsewhere, I don't think the Raspberry Pi Foundation does either, but I do hope we can be a catalyst for change and a raiser of awareness. Those of us posting here are a tiny, immensely privileged demographic. And judging by some of the stuff I read here, very few of us realise it.
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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Fri Jan 13, 2012 8:25 am

Chromatix said:


Those problems are more complex than the ones I was being given at school when I started to learn programming.  I think I turned out all right.

What age group were they aimed at?  That might be the really shocking part.


The questions were for the end of course examination for 15 year olds at a FOUNDATION level. These two questions were two of the harder ones that I could find. That is a measure of the level that teachers of 15 year old have to deal with. Some even fail this exam. I was just trying to bring some perspective back.

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Fri Jan 13, 2012 9:39 am

The topic of the thread just invites arguement.  I expect the forum to get even more confrontational as time goes on.

Really it's not a question worth asking.  If you want to learn BASIC on your Pi then fine, and if you don't then that's fine too.  But don't go around saying to people 'You shouldn't be doing this, you should be doing that instead', or 'That program you've written is garbage - you could have written a much more effective one this way'

You could say something like 'Well done, that's a good program you've made.  You might be interested to see what I've done here as an alternative method.'

Keep it positive, and give encouragement to people that might not know as much as you do.  We're all at different skill levels.

Anyway, who is to say that someone won't come up with a killer app written in BASIC?

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Fri Jan 13, 2012 10:07 am

tufty said:


If you have graduate software engineers who would struggle with what was posted, they have absolutely no right to have a degree.  Or, alternatively, they have wasted 3 to 4 years of their time getting a degree which is utterly worthless.  Whichever way you look at it, it makes them lousy "software engineers".


Agreed, but that is the level what is coming out of universities. Engineers who don't understand the Program Counter or the internals of a computer, don't really understand programming constructs and generally don't really do programming. Its been going on for a decade or so, a general watering down of the value of the computing degrees. I'm at the point where I'd consider recruiting 18 year olds rather than graduates.

Problem is, we need to encourage the bright kids to excel while not sidelining the not so bright. In a classroom this can be difficult. I'd expect a handful of kids to get to grips with the KS4 objectives (and beyond) but not all. My wife teaches A-level so I have some knowledge of how little some kids seem to learn at schoos.


The choice of language should not be our primary issue, although we will still have these discussions – the problem as I see it lies in the education system.

As long as the education system remains a caucus-race, driven by bogus statistics we will receive little in the way of confits [sic] – we need to take advantage of this opportunity give to us and try and get more people programming. The more energy we spend arguing amongst ourselves


Sums up the problem quite neatly.

I have no particiular problem with BASIC, I know of at least one big company which used to do its business logic using it. What we need are a generation of engineers who can cope with whatever problems come up.

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Fri Jan 13, 2012 10:29 am

This is the first computer I ever used: A HP2000. $90k for 8K bytes, supporting 32 users. Wizzo.

I was (unreliably) informed that even its OS was written in BASIC. Whether that is true or not, BASIC was all it offered to the general user.

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