The closed nature of school networks are preventing children from building their own software applications, a computing and IT teacher told Techworld this week.
The claim comes as the UK government continues its push to get more students interested in app development and increase their chances of founding the next Facebook, Snapchat or Google.
“It’s hard to support app development in school because of the programming environment set up that most schools have,” said John Partridge, assistant head teacher at Minster School in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. “It’s still something that we’re struggling with.”
Students are only able to build apps when the computer system is opened up but that can be challenging to schools due to security reasons, according to Partridge.
“Obviously it’s all networked together so within that is lots of things that students shouldn’t really be able to get access to,” said the former head of IT and computing.
“I know most schools are facing a constant battle with their IT support teams to try and open up the system a little bit more to allow text-based programming,” said Partridge. “That usually involves making some sort of executable file but most schools just won’t allow that.”
In order to get round the issue, Minster School has started creating virtual environments for its students to build apps through.
“The problem is we’ve got some quite old kit,” said Partridge. “In order to run a virtual machine on a PC you need something relatively powerful. We’re trying that out in one of our rooms this year and if it works out then we’re going to try and upgrade the rest of our computers.”
Partridge explained that his department has also tried letting students use Raspberry Pi devices, some of which were obtained free through the Google-sponsored Hour of Code initiative, to build apps. But, he said, it’s quite time consuming to set them up at the start of each lesson.
Meanwhile, Suraj Kika, CEO of web experience firm Jadu, said it's not that hard to get children building their own apps in school. He claimed 4,500 students across the UK are using Jadu's Weejot.com platform to build and publish their own apps.
"Weejot.com is a software-as-a-service that requires open internet access," he said. "We have not had any issues with network connectivity for the schools that use Weejot.com to teach mobile app development.
Former education secretary Michael Gove made computer programming compulsory in primary and secondary schools across England last year.
While some schools have embraced it, others are finding it difficult because they lack the required expertise and resources.
Marc Scott, an IT and computing teacher at Bourne Grammar School in Lincolnshire, said: “Many teachers are in a difficult situation, especially in primary schools, having the new curriculum thrust upon them, and I empathise with their predicament. Fortunately there is plenty of support available online.”
"In a way we're very lucky, as I doubt there are many subjects with a body of experts out there ready to give so much support and guidance," said Scott.