Delphi – The Programming Language of Education

I recently read an article on the popular technical news site, The Register. It stated that a UK exam board was withdrawing C, C# and PHP from its syllabus in favour of “approved languages” - Java, Pascal/Delphi, Python 2.6, Python 3.1, Visual Basic 6 and VB.Net 2008. In addition, teachers planning to use Java were warned that many universities were dropping it from their first year computer science courses in a move that echoed a similar shift in the United States.

Just by looking at the number comments on the post, you can see the ruckus that the article caused.

I read the article and some of the comments, and then I reposted the link to Twitter to share with some of my developer followers. I was offered mixed reactions to the news.

As many of you know, I am not a developer, so I am presenting this opinion piece to you as a completely objective bystander. So what did I hear?

Argument 1 - Teach relevant languages for today’s employment opportunities.

Is this a facepalm moment for UK education?Naturally, many developers bought up the issue of relevance to today’s opportunities for developers looking for employment after university. Comments like “Who uses Delphi?”, “Why are we not preparing students for real life?” and “Using Delphi would put me right off a programming job!” were common, not only in the responses I received, but also in the comments to the article. Furthermore, questions were raised about the choice to use VB but not C#. “If one .NET language is suitable for teaching then both should be” said one commenter. “VB is such a terrible choice that it would be right off my list. It's terrible for exception handling, object orientation and it's dead”, said another.

Of course there were always going to be objections to each developer’s language of choice, but I wondered if C# developers really were more highly sought after than VB or Delphi developers.

With this being a decision taken by a British education authority, I did a quick search on a UK nationwide job site for “developer” jobs. I got 2033 results. I narrowed it down to C developers. I hit 282 possible results. I then looked for VB developers. I found 220 possible options. Finally, I searched for jobs for Delphi developers. I got only 17 results back.

Does this mean that Delphi is no longer a sought after programming language for UK developers? Perhaps. Does it mean that the job market in the UK is satisfied in terms of its roles for Delphi developers? Maybe. Does it mean that Delphi is a bad choice for students to study if they want to progress with their career? Judging by the other side of the debate, I doubt it very much.

Argument 2 – Studying programming is about problem solving and solution implementation.A thumbs up for education officials?

“The danger of teaching what the industry demands is that what the industry uses changes so frequently.” This pretty much sums up the other school of thought. Moreover, computer programming is not just about learning a programming language, it’s about being able to look a problem and find a solution. Coding that solution is arguably the last part of the puzzle – that’s just putting the theory into practise. 

Although Delphi, unlike its predecessor Pascal, was not designed for teaching, it is still held to be a stable language that teaches problem solving as well as programming. As one commenter on the article says of Pascal, “it was very useful for learning algorithms and structured programming. I have used my Pascal knowledge to adapt to other languages like Java and C. I also used the knowledge that I learnt from algorithms in Pascal to other disciplines.” The poster also goes on to point out that Pascal instils “good programming habits”. Surely in an economic age where technology is almost the backbone of our day-to-day lives, we should be relying on employers to recruit programmers who have a solid foundation in programming, one that will offer them a strong set of transferrable skills that they can implement and apply to a problem. I’m not sure we necessarily need a group of developers proficient in languages that could soon be regarded as “outdated”.

What do you think?

Were the exam board making a positive move towards better foundations for our future developers, or do you think that they have set back the next wave of computer programmers?

Leave your comments below and let us know what you think of the Delphi Debate.

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