17/01/2012 09:22 GMT | Updated 17/03/2012 05:12 GMT

The Code Less Travelled

This week, British education secretary Michael Gove criticised current teaching of computing at schools, and announced plans to change the curriculum drastically. He hopes to place a greater emphasis on the languages behind computers, suggesting that "Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word or Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations".

Earlier still, in August of last year, Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt lambasted Britain's computer education, which he described as "throwing away your great computing heritage".

I can't code. I wouldn't know where to begin. As an avenue of learning, I've not so much missed the turning as driven to the wrong city. Such attitudes to coding are, it seems, quite widespread. On further inspection though, they don't seem to make sense. I am not, for example, a nuclear scientist. Still, I remain able to understand elements of how nuclear power plants work. Neither am I fluent in French, yet I'm still aware of the odd phrase.

When it comes to coding however, I am wholly, completely, utterly and embarrassingly clueless. Computing permeates our lives. There's barely a single thing that we do that isn't inexorably linked to it. Electronic timetables at the train station; the checkout at the supermarket; the laptop with which I am writing this. And I understand none of it. This just isn't good enough.

To that end, I've found myself signing up to a programme called Code Year. It's an online resource that endeavours to teach people, over the course of a year, how to code. It's interactive. It's easy on the eye. And it's free.

Thus far, the site has attracted more than 300,000 users, and has even seen registration from the likes of New York's Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. But is it actually any good?

The specific code that it's teaching is JavaScript. As far as the internet goes, JavaScript is the big one. It works in all popular browsers, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and many more besides. In terms of its role, it's a great deal more interactive than something like HTML. JavaScript can react to users, perhaps bringing up an information box when they click on a button. And most importantly of all, JavaScript is an 'open language' - anyone can use it, you don't need to purchase a license first.

This makes it great for learning; not only is it free, but it's highly useful and widely applicable. CodeYear reckon that users will eventually be able to progress to such a stage that people like me will be "building apps and websites before you know it". That would be great, although I'm not sure I'll ever get that far; not only is it beyond my skill, it goes further than anything I'd ever need any coding know-how for.

A little literacy is what I'm aiming for, and it's hopefully what I'll get. In the digital age, a total ignorance of how what we're using works just doesn't cut it.