Computing in UK Schools is Failing Students

Author: Tony Gallacher
Published: March 08, 2012 at 4:20 pm

In the UK, the respected Science body, the Royal Society, recently published a report damning the teaching of ICT (information and Communications Technologies) in UK schools. The report is called 'Shut Down or Restart: the Way Forward for Computing in Schools.'

The report makes a number of very good proposals. In the main, it demonstrates careful consideration of the current issues around Computing education. Among its recommendations, it suggests the term ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) should possibly be dropped. Instead three main areas of Computing should be recognized.

Computer Science is 'the rigorous academic discipline, encompassing programming languages, data structures, algorithms etc.'

Information Technology includes the practical application of Computer Science to systems architecture, development, programming and project management. For illustration, this is what most IT professionals in industry do.

Digital Literacy encompasses the skills that we all need to use computers, mobile technology and internet services in our daily lives. These are core skills, on a par with reading and writing. The society recognizes that all pupils must learn these skills, in order to successfully progress through school. For example, the A-level Geography curriculum assumes that prospective students already have a grasp of writing skills and critical thinking, commensurate with their level of study. To the same degree, pupils must also acquire digital literacy skills as they progress through school.

It makes good sense to subdivide the discipline into the 3 categories outlined above. I wouldn't hesitate to drop the confusing term ICT. It would be better to replace it with 'Computing,' as the over-arching name for the discipline.

All the same, this and many of the recommendations in the report are pretty obvious and really, they have been self-evident for a decade or more. I would argue that the evidence for the report could have been gathered at any time, during that long period.

A lack of adequate education and understanding of Computing have brought us to a crisis point. The problem has been ignored, due to an ill-judged bias towards traditional Science disciplines, such as Physics and Chemistry. This applies to education curricula, STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) organizations and science communication as well.

There has been a dearth of initiatives to promote the understanding of Computing and its study. Lessons learned from poor uptake of Science and Engineering, in the past, should have informed our approach to Computing education; before the horse not so much bolted, as sauntered past us, while we calibrated our slide rules.


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Article Author: Tony Gallacher

I’m an IT Consultant. Most of my experience is as a software developer and project manager. I write about technology and social media. I’m particularly keen to cover practical uses. I’m less likely to write ‘here’s this cool new whizmo’ as I am to write about how you can use Whizmo better. …

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