‘Boring’ computer curriculum just doesn’t get IT

According to UK schools chief Michael Gove, computing lessons are out of date. He wants to ditch today’s curriculum, and teach students to make their own apps, games and programs.

Technology has changed our world in unimaginable ways. Advanced computing systems connect us with friends, provide entertainment and allow us to conduct business all over the world. From hospitals to TV schedules, everything depends on Information Technology.

But while computers have developed in thrilling ways, the way we learn about them has barely altered. According to Education Secretary Michael Gove, IT lessons are ‘boring’. And they have got to change.

In today’s schools, he says, IT means spreadsheets and word-processing. For today’s ‘digital natives’, perfectly at home with Facebook and iPhones, this barely scratches the surface. And it’s not giving them the skills they need.

Building websites, running networks and solving technical problems are becoming essential in many jobs. Industries like visual effects or app development are booming. But companies say they can’t find workers with the knowledge for these essential roles. Schools are leaving them unprepared, and the UK now faces a massive skills gap.

Teenagers, Gove says, don’t need to know how to use programs. They need to know how to make them.

In Gove’s new world of IT teaching, students could learn formal logic, programming languages and coding. By 11, they could be designing their own 2D computer games; by 16, sophisticated apps.

It’s an exciting picture. But right now, no one is sure how it’s going to work. Rather than setting out what to teach, the government will simply tell schools that they don’t have to follow a programme of study.

With this new freedom, it is hoped, schools will develop their own new and exciting ways to teach the most important computing skills. In an area that is constantly evolving, schools might even set up a wiki-curriculum, that is always being added to and changed. Like the digital revolution itself, it seems the shape of the IT overhaul will be decided by the people affected by it, not dictated from the top down.

An open-source curriculum?

Experts set a curriculum, critics say, to ensure teenagers learn what they need. Without it, schools could neglect essential information. Inexpert teachers may struggle to produce exciting lessons. And students from less groundbreaking schools will be unfairly disadvantaged. Across the country, structure provides an essential standard in education. By failing to provide one, the government is failing in its duties.

Teachers, others argue, are the best judges of what goes on in the classroom. To improve teaching they must think creatively, and respond to new ideas and experiences. Technology changed the world through innovation, not government guidelines. Teaching can do the same – but only if it is freed from the suffocating structures of curriculum.

You Decide

  1. What do you think of your IT lessons at school? What skills do you think you should be taught to prepare you for employment and the wider world?
  2. Is there more to education than preparing young people for the working world? If so, what?

Activities

  1. Design a poster for a coding club. Include some of the reasons learning to code might be a powerful skill to develop.
  2. Design your ideal IT curriculum. What do you want to be taught? How would your teachers go about sharing their knowledge with you?

Some People Say...

“In the future, only the tech-savvy will get jobs.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Surely coding isn’t something I could possibly understand?
Don't be so hasty. Young people have had enormous successes in computer programming. A 12-year-old called Harry Moran recently became the youngest Mac app developer when he created PizzaBot at a Saturday morning coding club; at 11, Shane Curran has developed an online contacts database called Peoplez.
Wow. How would I get into something like that?
That’s exactly what the new endeavour to introduce coding teaching into schools is all about. But there are plenty of other opportunities to learn programming skills. Online, sites like Codecademy teach users the basics of programming, while clubs like CoderDojo – which will soon be set up in London – teach young people programming in a more social setting.

Word Watch

Michael Gove
As the Secretary of State for Education, Gove is responsible for setting education policy in the UK. A Conservative politician, he is enthusiastic about freedom of choice and competition improving standards in education, and has expanded Academies and Free Schools to lessen governmental control over education.
Skills Gap
This term is used when there are not enough people with a particular skill to meet the needs of an industry. In technology, for example, programmers and web developers are needed – but not enough people have the expertise to meet this need.
Coding
Coding is another term for computer programming. It refers to the source code of a computer program, effectively a set of instructions about how the program should behave, or respond to inputs.
Formal Logic
Formal logic is a branch of mathematics used in philosophy, computer science and other fields. It sets logically necessary relationships between certain things, which has made it essential in formulating how computer programs behave.