UK-based educator Shahneila Saeed’s new book ‘How To Raise a Tech Genius’ details the deeper technology we should learn and teach coming generations, and why we should not be intimidated
Machine architecture, the fetch-execute cycle, binary conversions, error-checking in encryption: how do you teach these heavy topics, typically featured in A-level or intermediate levels of schooling, to an 11 or 12 year-old? How To Raise A Tech Genius: Develop Your Child’s Computing Skills Without Spending Any Money (Hachette India) by Shahneila Saeed breaks this down for parents, students and teachers alike.
There are hundreds of books and films out in the world about how today’s and the future’s netizens should navigate social media. How To Raise A Tech Genius is about responsible rather than safe use. Shahneila, an educator of computing science, says, over a video call, “It is also about being able to prevent negative things from happening as well as how to respond should they happen. The book looks at humanitarian learning and ethics and things such as copyright.”
A skim through proves the book is neither textbook nor a self-help guide, but rather something entirely different. The London-based Shahneila, a mother of twin nine-year-old girls and also the Head of Education and Programme Director of Digital Schoolhouse at Ukie Logo, says she hopes the book bridges communication between parent and child, and engenders a healthier and more informed relationship with the deeper aspects of technology.
Shahneila toyed with the idea of the book years ago as an IT teacher for a large secondary and sixth form college. She admits that she was bored teaching and knew that the young people would be as bored of learning. “At that time, the curriculum for the younger children (11 to 13-year-olds) was centred around teaching them how to use Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel and how to navigate the Internet safely; those are useful skills but the problem was that was the ‘be all and end all’ of what we taught. I then started to explore what we were going to do: teach them animation, podcasting? Every time I took a meaty topic and delivered it to them in a digestible way with playful mechanics, they relished it. I realised we had to bring computing into the younger years and we needed to do it differently.”
Thus marked the revolution for Shahneila and the coming generations of her students. At the time programming was not in curriculum, so she adapted, using games design as an avenue, and the students loved it. “We ended up embedding the computer science curriculum five years before the UK government made the announcement. Some of the work we were doing in the classroom formed some of the evidence for those conversations between the grass-root organisations and the government.”
The popularisation of gamified learning has seen prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic as e-learning gets more interactive. Shahneila agrees, explaining past education systems had a strong focus on regurgitation of dates, locations, formulae and names. “In today’s world, most people have access to Google or similar search engines, so you have the world’s knowledge at your fingertips. There is no point having that in the palm of your hand if you don’t know what you are looking for. It is about asking the right questions, and knowing when to ask and how to force them. It is also about knowing what type of answer you are looking for, how you can sense-check and use it.” These skills, and the many more in a chunky chapter of the book, encompass computational thinking, at which point Shahneila chuckles and states, “I could write a whole book on that actually.”
Merely a guide
That said, being a busy parent, Shahneila had to consciously divide the book into digestible chunks. Time for How To Raise A Tech Genius had to be slotted into an already hectic schedule. “The idea is for the parent and child to go through this together.” Shahneila did not want the book to be an instructional guide in black and white. “It should allow room for critical thinking and decision-making from the readers. Every parent knows their child best. I can give you an activity but I have deliberately not said ‘this is how you explain the topic for the child’. Sometimes children will learn a lot but they do not realise they are learning it. We need to ask the right questions to bring that knowledge to the fore.”
Shahneila Saeed, educator and author of ‘How To Raise A Tech Genius: Develop Your Child’s Computing Skills Without Spending Any Money’
Shahneila, who understands that jargon-heavy subjects may be intimidating for parents, advises, “Play a game. Take the first chapter of algorithmic thinking and pick an activity. By the end of it, you will be laughing and it will spark a discussion. Yes, parents, there is a lot on our plates and we aren’t going to be the next Bill Gates. This is about understanding the world better and opening up a dialogue. If you don’t know something, ask your child and they will explain it to you, which also helps them articulate a subject. As parents, we feel we need to be the fountain of all knowledge and teachers feel the same, we are setting ourselves an impossible expectation.”
Putting How To Raise A Tech Genius together has impacted Shahneila greatly. Her approach to teaching and communication has evolved with the growing curricula. Having experienced support early on from her fellow educators while researching the book, she is thrilled the book has reached international families and education systems in the current climate of online classrooms.
‘How To Raise A Tech Genius: Develop Your Child’s Computing Skills Without Spending Any Money’ (Hachette India) by Shahneila Saeed is available across major online and offline book sellers for ₹604