Michael Gove's Dinner Party


If we're going to teach a dead language, let's make it BASIC.

If there's one complaint industry leaders have about modern school leavers, it's that there are just too few of them who speak Latin and Greek well. There is widespread concern about the UK slipping down the international table for Classics education and every NASUWT conference spends 90% of its time wringing its hands about the difficulties of recruiting teachers of long-dead languages.

To the list of dead languages our seven-year-olds should be taught, I'd like to suggest another: BASIC. While it might not have the same obvious impact on the UK's competitive industrial position as Latin and Greek, I think learning the fundamentals of programming may serve as a base for children to learn other, more modern languages such as PHP and Python.

Introducing children early to the classics - surely no person can be considered a well-rounded citizen who hasn't read Knuth? - will surely foster a love for creative problem-solving, for the poetry of simple code, for the joy of working things out. If you can program, even in BASIC, you can do maths.

While the jobs of the early 21st century may involve a great deal of noun declensions, I think it's likely that in the coming decades (or perhaps even sooner), a great deal of employment will demand strong skills in IT. I've heard it forecast that one day, there will be a computer in every office - and being able to communicate with these infernal machines might, in the distant future, become almost as important as a deep understanding of Homer. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and predict that in some dystopian future, some of the biggest companies in the world may owe their success to having written halfway-decent computer code.

I have no objection to Michael Gove's bold experiment of creating a national curriculum based on churning out people he wouldn't mind having at his dinner parties, people who'd laugh at Boris Johnson's terrific joke about Caesar, people who can tell their Archimedes from their Aristotle. More smart people is always a good thing. However, I'd like to think we could also develop people who could reminisce about Mined Out in the corner with Sir Alan Sugar.


Colin is a Weymouth maths tutor, author of several Maths For Dummies books and A-level maths guides. He started Flying Colours Maths in 2008. He lives with an espresso pot and nothing to prove.


3 comments on “Michael Gove's Dinner Party

  • Adrian Beckett

    I\’m all for getting rid of dead languages. Chinese – bring it on! Or maybe Spanish because I speak it. BASIC might be a good move. Or perhaps a bit of WordPress, SEO and passion would be more useful because with those skills, you could start your own business. Unemployment = zero, economy = awesome, happiness = much more and Michael Gove = get with the program.

    • Colin

      I agree – the problem isn\’t the amount of maths that gets taught, it\’s that it\’s not taught for a purpose (other than passing exams). The solution is getting kids excited about the kinds of problems that can be solved using maths. How far would a Wayne Rooney shot carry you backwards if you tried to catch it? How can you beat your annoying brother at Monopoly? How many mosaic tiles would you need to make a passable copy of the Mona Lisa?

      There\’s a brilliant St-Exupéry quote: If you want to build a ship, don\’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

  • Cav

    I loved BASIC when I was a kid. BBC MICROS AND MASTERS, Ace times!

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I teach in my home in Abbotsbury Road, Weymouth.

It's a 15-minute walk from Weymouth station, and it's on bus routes 3, 8 and X53. On-road parking is available nearby.

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