“Lifeless and Dull” – A Goodbye To ICT?

Today’s blog is something of a personal interest of mine. As a teacher of Information Communication Technology (ICT) and currently involved in also teaching Creative Media Production, I’ve had hands on experience with the way ‘computing’ is taught and the impact it has on student’s knowledge and aspirations. Finally, it seems like people (the Government) have been listening (common sense) and there’s a huge shift coming in the way ‘computers’ are taught. Click to read on.

To make you realise why this change is so important, it’s key to explain what the current state of ICT education is like in the UK. Currently we’ve got a curriculum that is focused on the following;

  • Capability (What computers can do)
  • Communicating and Collaborating (How computers allow us to work together and stay in touch all over the world)
  • Exploring Ideas and Manipulating Information (How to fix things using computers, allowing us to prove or disprove ideas and then showing the evidence)
  • Impact of Technology (How has ICT changed the way the world works)
  • Critical Evaluation (What’s already out there and why is it good, giving suggestions for improving things)
This is all taken from the Key Stage 4 ICT National Curriculum guidelines. These are guidelines for 14 – 16 year old students to follow.
I have no problem with students learning the above. It’s important. Technology has changed the way things work, it’s important to look at what it does, how it’s affected us and how to use the information properly (though 99% of students still think copying and pasting off of Wikipedia is ‘a good source of information’). Students also spend time learning what can be done with technology by using the most common software, i.e. Office. Experience is gained with near enough the whole Office suite of programmes and everyone’s happy. Well, they would be if it wasn’t for this fact.

 

It’s exactly what they did at Key Stage 3. When they were 11 – 14.

So there you have it. Students learn how to use Office FOR 5 YEARS but don’t learn how to make it, how it works or how to develop their own ideas and programmes. A recent report (which got me excited enough to write this thing) contains a quote which sums it up for me;

“Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word or Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations.”

Whilst students being bored is bad enough, this dull curriculum has ramifications beyond poor results and bad behaviour in schools. It seems that, unsurprisingly, students don’t have an appreciation for computing. Therefore, if you’ve not been exposed to something, how can you decide to study it further?

Students in the UK have no educational access to programming (computer science) until College. This is the 16 -19 age range, the step before University. How can a 16 year old agree to or even want to do an intensive course in programming if they’ve never been taught it, at any level, before?

“ICT teaching at school may actively be discouraging young people from pursuing programming-intensive degrees…”

This lack of exposure is making those that do want to learn computer science poorly equipped to do so whilst those that don’t want to learn seem to be basing their decision on nothing but misconceptions and sheer ignorance.

This isn’t just my own little battle here. I’m not just interested in spreading my interest (though I am). There’s cold, hard money to be made. The UK games industry made £2 billion in 2008. This is falling. Worse so, the amount of knowledge we have within the workforce is falling. This shuffling of education and re-addressing of issues to make the curriculum more relevant will surely help the UK out.

Naturally though, it takes money to earn money. A re-shuffle will not please some teachers (new schemes of work, resources, lesson plans and mark schemes to learn), will be met with confusion by parents that ‘just don’t get it’ and may take years to complete.

Still, my fingers are crossed and I hope to be teaching students that are better equiped to work in UDK, Java and Action Script (urgh). I honestly don’t know if I can handle another 18 year old ‘game student’, with plans of starting their own company to make a WOW killer, who’s just finished off their application to do a ‘Games Design‘ degree asking me what binary is.

I may explode.

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