Don't teach children to use Open Office, it's as bad as MS Office

We have the absurd situation in schools where nearly every child is exposed to the process of making of a PowerPoint presentation yet is completely ignorant of how the computer that produced it works... Is this education? I have been concerned...

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We have the absurd situation in schools where nearly every child is exposed to the process of making of a PowerPoint presentation yet is completely ignorant of how the computer that produced it works... Is this education?

I have been concerned that ICT teaching in schools, which seems to have no enthusiastic supporters, was defined by the technology on which it is based...in other words hard to change.

But judging by the feedback received from readers it is fair to say that school ICT really can be opened up to innovation and largely freed from the restrictions imposed by the demands of security, health & safety, Data Protection Act and the “Network”.

In other words there are no technical barriers that mean things have to be a certain way. So thank you to all the technical folk (Grumbledook especially) for the detail as to how this can be done.

However, as more than one tech pointed out, the parlous state of ICT education in the UK ”is ‘not my fault ... go and take a look at the teachers and ‘manglement’ (sic) for the blame’.”...so we will.

Blame the System

Too right. What actually happens in class is, in my opinion, the product of two disasters. The first was the creation of school examination league tables, the second was the privatisation of the examination boards that make their profit from testing.

To explain: there is, as a result of the above, an inevitable collusion between schools and exam boards (wittingly or otherwise ), one selling tests, the other desiring test success, which has produced an absurd situation where exam boards now publish their own (ever changing) text books which effectively give the answers to their (ever changing ) multitude of exams.

Good Results for schools = Good Profits for exam boards: everyone is happy...or not.

This is a “diseased and almost corrupt” mess according to ex-QCA head Mick Waters. Thus what occurs in the classroom is, to the greatest extent, in thrall to its exam-metric outcome. This is a sad state of affairs indeed, but it is also an extremely high risk strategy for education.uk.

Quite simply it means if examinations are one day discredited, then so will be the entire education process.

As a direct consequence of such a high stakes game, the collusive nature of collective delusion becomes very strong indeed. It is nigh impossible for parents and teachers to “blow the whistle”, after all how could it be acceptable to “diss” the achievements of what are in effect your own children who have worked so hard?

Thus, given the initial conditions described, all else follows. It is against the backdrop above that our school curricula veered off track... which brings me to the subject I am interested in for this blog, namely ICT education.

ICT Teaching

As the blog started, we have the absurd situation in ICT for example where every child is exposed to the making of a PowerPoint presentation yet is completely ignorant of how the computer that produced it works.

It is regarded as normal to teach even young children “Office” skills. Schools spend many, many lessons teaching secondary school aged children how to do MS PowerPoint presentations or for that matter to create MS Publisher desktop publications.

Why?

I am not having a go at Microsoft. It is not a crime to produce a successful suite of programs for the business office (although certain doings on way to achieving such global success were deemed to be crimes) but the educational value of this software seems to have been merely assumed.

I would challenge this assumption.

(It would, by the way, be of equally questionable value to use a free, open source product. A c**p model is just as c**p using proprietary software as it is using FOSS).

So called Office “skills” aren't really suitable as intellectual challenges (cognitive development scaffolds… if you are into the jargon) beyond the primary school years* where, ironically, they are least relevant to joining the workplace.

Producing a slide show and a leaflet is fun (possibly), and doing it electronically on a computer is easy... young children can do it and it is fun for them. But, it is no way equivalent to mastering fractions or the perfect tense, nor does it aid in those endeavours. Yet because it is “done on a computer” (that thing that mystifies grown ups) it is afforded an undeserved status.

*And before you get cross with me, using VLOOKUP (A Level equivalent study skill) on Excel is a contrived and pointlessly “hard” thing to do with MS Excel… it's still not education.

So here is my first suggestion.

STOP TEACHING “Office” stuff outside of “preparation-to-leave-school” vocational training programs...you know, like you once did for archetypal office workers such as typists, trainee accountants and that oddest of species called “managers or executives”.

Apologies for once again, like Ed Milliband, saying what I am not going to do, but this simple act of abolition will have a fundamental and immediate effect, that is, there will be loads and loads of computers in schools with nothing to do.

Suddenly, the investment in ICT facilities, (yet another example of unthinking collusion between vendors and schools) will now seem a bit daft. ICT GCSE will collapse, exposed as the silly contrived nonsense subject it always was.

Actually, as an aside, if you talk to the exam boards this is already happening; the sales of ICT exams are in free-fall. But think about it, no PowerPoint, no Excel no Publisher, what bliss.

However now we have the problem of what to do with all that spare time and all those computers..

Watch this space, I have a cunning plan and if you think I am wrong about office skills please post your presentation on You Tube explaining why and I promise not to watch it.

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