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ICT in schools

Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced today that the teaching of ICT (Information and Communications Technology) in schools is going to be completely revamped, with the current teaching methods scrapped and “replaced by an “open source” curriculum in computer science and programming designed with the help of universities and industry.” (BBC News).  Companies like Microsoft and Google have been mentioned as potential partners for the new curriculum.

One of the reasons why I am so interested in this is that we had a discussion about exactly this subject over the lunch table yesterday.  Information Science and Computer Science overlap quite a bit, particularly when it comes to areas such as the internet and the digitising of information.  One of my colleagues had been on a course with some Comp Sci lecturers, who mentioned that some new students find the “reality” of Comp Sci very difficult because they have no background in the technical aspects of the subject.

I am happy to admit that I know very little about what is taught in secondary schools these days.  When I was at school we had a very small number of BBC Micro computers (three, I think, though I could be wrong) and, as part of a class I can’t remember (Art, Design and Technology or something similar, perhaps), we had the very basic basics of BASIC coding explained to us, and we copied lines of code in order to make a box appear on the screen. It sounds ridiculous now, but considering that computers were something most of us had only seen on Tomorrow’s World or in science fiction TV shows, it was quite impressive, if not terribly exciting.

I have no idea whether coding, to any level, is part of ICT teaching in most schools, but a common complaint seems to be that students are arriving at university with a desire to design games or apps, but no or little understanding of the theoretical foundations of the field.  Their knowledge is often top-level, surface knowledge of software and applications such as the Microsoft Office Suite, rather than knowledge about coding and the building blocks of the programs they use.  This means that there is a steep learning curve when they get to university – sometimes one which is too steep to climb.  A quote from Ian Livingstone, an advisor to Michael Gove, seems to sum up this point of view: “Children are being forced to learn how to use applications, rather than to make them. They are becoming slaves to the user interface”.
This is the link to the BBC news story.

(Something which is loosely related to this is the idea of 2012 as the Code Year, an idea from Codecademy.  The idea behind Code Year is that you learn to code, for free, via emailed lessons, and it really seems to have struck a chord with the librarian population.  The hashtag on Twitter for libraryish folks taking part is #libcodeyear.)