Keys to the future

c: | f: /

Exclamation mark: check. Hash: check. Tilde: check. Parentheses: check. Weird upside-down-L thing that has no seeming use: check. Braces: ummm…

With fabulous inventions like the Raspberry Pi computer, there’s been much talk of using them to help kids get back to “real computing” and programming. Yay. So instead of the sanitized ICT lessons of today, which are just glorified typing courses, they can start to teach kids how to program from a tender age.

Or not.

Spot the obvious error on the keyboards installed by the truckload in the tech-friendly primary schools of today:

Primary school keyboard

Now answer this: how the hell are they going to learn to code without access to curly or square braces? With the exception of the function keys and numeric keypad — which aren’t much use in everyday life anyway — every other key of merit on a standard full-size keyboard is present on the kiddieboard. Except the braces.

It only requires two more keys so they can’t have been omitted on the basis of cost, can they? And that ridiculous upside-down-L thing is apparently important enough to include, yet I’ve never used it and don’t know anyone who has.

While one can (just) get away without braces in raw HTML, you can’t program its complements, CSS and JavaScript, without them so that precludes making modern websites.

Are we deliberately confining youngsters to dead, procedural languages like BASIC, or some other edge-case languages that don’t use arrays, functions and conditional constructs? Maybe the idea is to make everyone a Lisp programmer (which wouldn’t be all bad, I must admit). Or is the plan to go hardcore and teach assembly language? Or is programming deemed too dangerous a pastime to government and corporate lackeys who think computing is just a fad?

I got my first computer when I was about six years old and was programming on it within months (arguably in BASIC, but it was pretty much the only thing around back then). With the abundance of technology and languages available now, today’s six-year-olds could be the saviour of the country, if only they weren’t hamstrung by Happy Shopper keyboards bought by blinkered institutions in the so-called name of progress.

We need a campaign to bring back the braces for our kids! Who’s with me?

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