Industry Reacts to the Standardisation of Microsoft Office and Delphi in Basic Education

The Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry is seeking an urgent response from businesses and other stakeholders in education and ICT on a recent circular from the Department of Basic Education to standardise software tools for Computer Applications Technology (CAT) and Information Technology (IT) taught in high schools. Circular S9 of 2013 involves the standardisation and use of Microsoft Office only for CAT and Delphi as the only programming language for IT.

“The decision by the Department of Basic Education to standardise on Microsoft Office for CAT and Delphi as the only programming language for IT is a major setback for computing and education in South Africa. It is completely unjustified from a cost perspective and quite baffling in the light of South Africa’s commitment to Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). This decision will impact South Africa’s competitiveness and must be reversed or else the entire mainstream public education will become irrelevant,” says Roderick Lim Banda, Chair of the Digital Portfolio Committee of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Bronwen Kausch, COO of the Cape Chamber further notes that: “We are keenly aware that we live in an information age and that ICT is the key to improving language, maths and science and our global competitiveness. This decision is likely to have detrimental consequences for education which will exacerbate the skills crisis for business.”

In his blog which reports on and provides a copy of the circular, Derek Keats bemoans the selection of Delphi as the only programming language. “IT should be the subject that excites the next generation of software engineers. Goodness knows, we are not producing enough of those by a long shot in South Africa at present. Teaching a moribund language is not going to excite anyone. It would be far better to teach something that is actually in use, and to allow young people to build real world applications for mobile phones, tablets, web applications, games. This is how you excite the next generation. Python, PHP, Java, Javascript… any 21st Century language would be better than Delphi. Any. Any at all.”

A long time advocate of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), Keats also points out that the use of Microsoft Office only for CAT, “is anti-competitive, and denies school learners exposure to a variety of viable alternatives, and also denies other companies access to the school environment.”

The Cape Chamber will be hosting a meeting on the 16th of October to discuss how this policy impacts on learners and affects the future competitiveness of the local business environment. This will be a follow up on previous discussions on ICT in education and how industry and commerce can influence South Africa’s basic education policy as education is ultimately intended to equip learners to be employed by business. The Cape Chamber would like to look at possible solutions to improve the state of basic education and to advance the use of technology and development of software skills. We welcome all interested parties and stakeholders to join us for this important discussion.

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3 Responses to Industry Reacts to the Standardisation of Microsoft Office and Delphi in Basic Education

  1. Ron Holloway 14/10/2013 at 10:59 #

    After having programmed in Delphi for 10 years I switched to Python and I’ve now been using Python for about 9 years. The transition from Delphi to Python was easy.

    I regularly use Python to explain a programming concept when my kids ask for help with Java homework. Python requires little or no scaffolding, runs on most OS’s but most importantly gets to the point. With Java and Delphi the kids cannot see the wood for the trees.

    A good example was a recent homework assignment where my daughter had to write a Java program to produce a list of Gauteng number plates. We did the program in Python, Java and Delphi. The Python program took 10 lines of code and each line addressed the problem. In Java and Delphi the scaffolding took more than 10 lines of code and I cannot but wonder how much class time is wasted getting the scafholding up.

    Python allows kids to program interactively via the shell, something the other languages do not have. Python is a modern, fun language and is in my opinion the best programming language to teach kids. Period! And on this even my teenage kids agree.

  2. Bronwen 14/10/2013 at 20:12 #

    Thanks Ron,

    It’s precisely this sort of practical information which needs to be sent on to the DBE. I am slightly offended by the DBE’s response though:

  3. Craig Byren 15/10/2013 at 22:50 #

    Why is it that the choice of a language can cause such an emotive response. To my mind this response represents everything that is wrong with our industry today – and publishing headlines in the business press that denigrate one particular language do more harm than good. They confuse the average business person and switch the focus from “can you solve my problem” to “what language will you be using”. As a business, we have been using Delphi for 17 years and at the time we chose it, I really believe it was the best option available for PC based development. We have used many other languages and continue to use what is best for the required solution. All the scaffolding is complete and in place and today all our development work is accomplished by simply building the appropriate SQL – we actually don’t write any Delphi code to solve the business problems anymore.

    Delphi may not be the obvious choice today, but the only certainty in this industry is that what is the ‘obvious’ choice today – won’t be tomorrow. The best language for most programmers is the one you are good at and have built up a library of re-usable tools, scaffolding, techniques and source code. As Ron says above, the switch from Delphi to Python was easy – and part of that would be down to the good structure taught by Object Pascal (the foundation of Delphi). Standardisation is critical for the DBE and at present half the provinces use Delphi and half use Java. Java itself may be great but also requires the choice of an IDE and NetBeans (currently the chosen IDE) doesn’t come close to the Delphi IDE.

    So let’s understand the purpose of teaching a programming language – which should be providing a grounding for good development principles and disciplines. Python, Java and Delphi will all achieve this – and it comes down to practical issues like standardisation, teacher training, training material etc.

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