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Computer Education

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Andrew Hague's post on Computer Education in Britain touches on something I've been discussing with my wife recently.

The travesty of ICT

Our children do not get taught anything at school about how computers work, or how to program them, and are unlikely to. Andrew says he found that "the study of computer science for British children ends at about age 11." This doesn't tally with my experience of primary schools — they are never taught any computer science. Local secondary schools are proud of their ICT suites, with office programs and image editing programs galore, but not a single class on the basics of computers and programming.

Part of the problem is the complexity of modern computers. Whereas the computers we grew up with (the Dragon 32, BBC Micro, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, etc.) were simple beasts, and booted into a programming environment (BASIC), modern computers are complex beasts with a swish graphical OS with no native programming environment. Yes, you can use Javascript in a browser, or the macro language in office programs, but it's not the same. PCs do not invite programming the same way that the older computers did, and you have to go out of your way to provide a basic programming environment.

Schools could overcome this hurdle, and provide programming environments, but they don't. Instead they teach everyone how to use the latest versions of office programs, despite the fact that next year's release will have a different UI, and different capabilities. Yes, children need to be computer-savvy, due to the prevalence of computers in everyday life, but they don't need to be experts in using word processors. Rather, they should be taught how to learn to use the programs, the things that are common about them (e.g. menus), how to get help (the help menu, Google), and so forth, and then taught about how computers work. Yes, use a word processor for writing the occasional thing in English, or use a spreadsheet for doing some data analysis in Geography, but the "computing" lessons should be about programming and how computers work at the basic level, rather than how to use popular software.

I think this lack of teaching about the basics of computing has a wider effect, as well as the lack of new programmers. The computer is something that people don't understand, but which they rely on. This can give people a sense of powerlessness, especially when it does something unexpected. I've had to help people who've been all in a panic because they "lost their work". It didn't appear in the list that was presented in the "open file" dialog, so it was "lost". Somehow they had saved it in a different directory, and their lack of understanding about the file system meant they didn't know how to find it, and panicked — the computer that they relied on had "lost" their important work. Teaching about the basics of modern operating systems (rather than the specifics of the software package being used) would have alleviated this fear.

Addressing the Problem

So, what is to be done? Firstly, as programming parents we can teach our children about computers and programming, which is something that my wife and I have started doing. But beyond that, we need to make the schools, colleges and government aware of the issues.

Andrew points to the Computing at School working group and the Behind the Screen project, both of which seem promising. However, without support these projects will fizzle, and our children will continue to be taught how to use office software rather than computing principles.

Posted by Anthony Williams
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The situation will only change if parents across the country create a single lobby group, refuse to allow their children to take the current crop of ICT qualifications and cause the schools to spend money on the new options such as RaspberryPi etc. and build courses and such around them.

This was a hot topic at PyCon UK 2011, but will the energy simply dissipate.

Perhaps get one of the web-based lobby groups to start something. Perhaps even get something started on ACCU general?

by Russel Winder at 15:00:33 on Monday, 21 January 2019

I'm an ICT teacher in a secondary school. I'm also a C++ programmer and am currently learning how to write iOS games using OpenGL ES. So I'm one of those weird hybrid teachers that actually knows more than the kids (according to common opinions of teachers ;-)

I think we should be teaching kids the stuff I'm learning at the moment. I've unwittingly learnt linear algebra, complex trig, geometry, programming, logical thought, reasoning and a tiny bit of 3D design, self motivation and the desire to succeed for my own personal benefit. All vital skills that a decent workforce would need in society.

Unfortunately reality is quite quite different...

As a school we have many problems, quite a lot of them are brought in from society. You know those kids that intimidate you in town at night, or who are seen joyriding on TV? There's an expectation that they will sit in a classroom (without distracting the "good" kids who are going to save us all from oblivion) and learn things, and achieve the magic 5 A*-C including maths and english - the benchmark which all schools are measured against. If your school doesn't meet its targets, OFSTED come and have a look around to find out why. The answer of "The kids don't try hard enough and are disinterested in their own education" isn't valid (but is often true). The funding of a school is based on the number of pupils it has, and how well they do. So if you want a job the following year, you need your kids to pass their exams whether they deserve it or not.

Everything is results based. If your kids don't pass, you personally did something wrong. There's no responsibility put on the kids for their own education.

So lobbying the schools to "spend more money" wouldn't do anything - there is no money to spend, the government have chopped education budgets again this year. There's way too much "bums on seats = teacher wages" in education. And if cuts are being made, guess which "lesser" subjects are going to be affected first (everyone "knows" Powerpoint after all, Maths can teach excel, and English can use Word... so what's the point of ICT?)


To "fix" this problem we need several things to happen:

Education needs properly funding and being made a key part of society with a bit more respect. We need to get rid of this "it's the school's fault" mentality that people have (seriously, go stand in front of a bunch of 14 year olds and try and make them want to learn anything. It's not very easy when they have the Internet full of Youtube, Facebook and porn).

We need society as a whole to accept responsibility for our young people - go tell that screaming kid off in Tesco that's throwing beans on the floor. Then go tell its parent off for not doing what you just did.

And we need jobs. There's not much here for kids to aspire to, so they aspire to going on the dole.

We also need to accept that not everyone is suited to mainstream education, and that it is futile trying to force them through GCSEs. Some people are made to be excellent manual workers who can learn amazing crafts that cannot be taught in a classroom, so trapping them in school is wrong. Unfortunately there is nowhere for them to go because the law says they must be at school.

We also need the Raspberry Pi to be created because I think they're seriously cool and want two for my own amusement (they'd make great OpenSource games consoles...) ;-)

by James at 15:00:33 on Monday, 21 January 2019
Great concept I am Impress. Thank You.............
by Prodmetrics IT Services at 15:00:33 on Monday, 21 January 2019

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