New computing curriculum ‘still does not meet IT industry needs’

New computing curriculum ‘still does not meet IT industry needs’

Coding bias means pupils may not learn enough about how to use information technology to solve problems

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An education consultant and former ICT teacher has raised concerns that the new national curriculum for computing focuses too much on computer science, and not enough on the digital literacy and information technology aspects of IT.

The Royal Society defined digital literacy as the basic skill taught to students, computer science as the study of how computers work - including coding and programming - and information technology as the study of how technology can be used to solve problems.

Bob Harrison, who was a teacher for 35 years and is now a consultant and advises Toshiba Information Systems on education strategy, said that while he welcomed the reform of the ICT curriculum, he did not think that the right balance had been achieved.

“I think the new national curriculum is much thinner, and gives scope for teachers to innovate and experiment. However, some of the feedback was that there was too much emphasis on computer science, to the detriment of digital literacy and information technology,” he said.

“The issue is about balance. There are a lot of teachers who think it is too narrow and too specific and it will not suit the needs of all pupils and it currently does not suit the needs of the IT industry.”

While many in the IT industry have welcomed the new curriculum, Harrison believes that supportive organisations such as BCS, Chartered Institute for IT, represent just one part - the computer science and therefore the research and academic - of the industry, rather than the whole.

“The BCS does not represent the IT industry. It represents computer science. Coding and programming is only one very small part of the IT industry,” Harrison said.

“I’m not convinced that the national curriculum will meet the needs of the IT industry. I think it will meet the needs of the computer science industry.”

Teachers need more support

Another aspect of the new curriculum that worries Harrison is the lack of official support that teachers have to help them deliver the new programme of study from September 2014. The government has given teachers just one year to get up to speed with the new curriculum.

“We’ve got a seismic shift in the national curriculum for ICT to computing and the support for the seismic shift is based on volunteerism,” he said.

The volunteer work that Harrison is referring to is an IT teaching resource website that he chairs, Computing ITT & CPD and the BCS’s Computing At School (CAS) initiative. Harrison’s website has been put together by a group of just over 30 teachers and educators.

“This Google site and CAS are both based on volunteerism. They have had very little funding from the Department for Education (DfE). It relies on the network of teachers,” he said.

One of the schemes that the government has provided funding - of £2 million - for, is the BCS's network of excellence (NoE) in teaching computer science (NoE), a network of 'master' teachers to help train others to teach computer science. Harrison supports this scheme but said that with 28,000 schools, the funding is just a "drop in the ocean". 

He added: “It’s all very well spelling out what teachers should be teaching. The hardest bit is to ensure you have the workforce capable of teaching.

“It is a big ask in a very small time scale.”




  • CS Architect Actually the university level of Computing Science education has the same problemConsider the background of the professors Almost all of them have only academic background How can you expect them to train students for the industryI believe part of the solution is to get experienced industry workers to participate in Computing Science education As an experienced industry worker I tried to bring industrial expectations into Computing Science education at university I will not describe how many barriers I am facing but more than you can think of
  • Prof Andrew A. Adams Digital literacy is important but its a basic skill like basic numeracy and basic reading comprehension It needs to be in the curriculum but actually it can be and should be taught primarily via the medium of the other subjects at secondary level with a small amount of reinforcement of core elementsTeaching computer science is the same as teaching mathematics English biology physics history geography We need to teach pupils a range of subjects in sufficient depth that those with the aptituted and interest have the grounding from school to go on to more advanced study at University andor into suitable school-leaving entry-level jobsI remember a lesprit descalier moment a while back before computer science was removed from the school curriculum and replaced by basic IT literacy actually a waste of time for half the class who are using computers regularly - perhaps whats really needed is remedial classes in IT literacy but only for those not using them at home A non-computer scientist said that they didnt understand why we wasted time teaching CS in Schools since so few would go on to become computer programmers Only afterwards did I come up with the killer response An even tinier number will become actors yet we study Shakespeare in Schools as part of English We do it because without exposure to it programming or Shakespeare then those with the aptitude may never realise it In addition getting at least a basic level of exposure to a wide range of subjects is important for developing an understanding of the modern world These days understanding the basics of how computers operate ie not by magic but because someone broke down the task into really tiny steps but in doing so its easy to make mistakes is as importat as understanding the basics of how biology operates how plants grow how sexual and a-sexual reproduction worksSo sure we still need to ensure that all pupils have sufficient basic IT literacy skills but we also need them to have exposure to well-taught computer science though given the skills gap we have in the IT industry reruiting decent computer scientists to be teachers is a challenge theyll have to figure out how to overcome
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