I want to suggest that perhaps we should all be applying a little pressure to the brakes as regards the current Computing tide sweeping the English curriculum at secondary level. This may seem like a surprising message given that in my school we have launched Computing A Level this year as blogged about here and will be launching Computing GCSE in 2012 as blogged about here. Let me clarify my thoughts:
Computing is important and a shift to Computing is a good thing. In fact, I would argue it is a vital step forward for ICT as a subject and there are essential skills and practices that the discipline brings. Even more important are the thinking skills that all those who are championing Computing are saying (and rightly so), are largely missing from many ICT specifications and classrooms.
Yet, I am proposing that we take a little step back here and use some of our own thinking skills to ponder over a few points:
- Why was ICT introduced in the first place?
- Why did Computer largely disappear into the shadows?
- Why is it that universities, in particular those offering Computer Science and other related courses, don’t seem to be that interested in all this debate or in getting involved in designing a clear curriculum pathway up to degree entry?
- Are there not other areas of ICT that are equally as ‘valuable’ as Computing?
- What will happen if ICT ‘soft skills’ are not taught at all in schools?
- If ICT is to be taught cross-curricular, is that really going to work in your school?
- Are the Computing qualifications on offer really that good?
- What about the average student who just wants to use a computer to complete tasks they need to do, what should they be taught? Programming? Will that engage them?
I am not going to attempt to answer all of these. Rather, I would suggest they are for everyone to choose which they consider are important enough to think about and provide their responses. What I will say is that bandwagon jumping is dangerous (especially if it has no brakes BOOM BOOM!!) In a way, some of these issues have been referred to in a lot of what has already been published. I particularly like comments made on http://tristramshepard.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/thinking-works/ in response to Newsnight (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/9612063.stm) regarding what should really be taught in respect of ‘modern day’ ICT and Computing. There is essential reading in the Pete Bell’s blog: http://petebell.com/?p=318 and equally in the comments that followed it.
I would even go so far as to point out that interpretation and choosing to focus on certain points is happening far too much. Look again at this article from the BBC’s Rory Cellan Jones. In it he quotes Ian Livingstone as saying:
“We’re very very good at making games – but we need the skills. We need computer scientists, animators, artists and there aren’t enough of them,”
Now, am I being a little pedantic here or are there three different strands to ICT cited in that quote?
In the Next gen report (http://www.nesta.org.uk/publications/assets/features/next_gen) it says to succeed in the video games and visual effects industry you need:
“a mix of personnel with STEM skills and creative talent ranging from animation to design and fine arts.”
Yet again, am I seeing something more than Computing mentioned here? And even where there is no mention of arts or animation skills, design or other non-specific Computing skills, there is reference to some ICT skills that I doubt most Computing courses cover. For example in http://www.intellectuk.org/media-releases/6972-dropping-ict-lessons-from-schools-could-improve-pupils-computing-skills there is reference to the need to advance “basic IT skills”.
To my mind, the answer to all this is complex but a solution of sort, lies in giving students a taste of as many elements as possible of Computing, ICT, Digital Graphics, etc etc at Key Stage 3. Then, offering students choices at KS4 (and possibly KS5) so that they can specialize in a graphical/media related course or Computing or a general ICT course. As to what is taught on these, well that’s a long debate especially as regards the Computing and ICT courses.
Love to hear your responses on all this.