Microsoft, not content merely to dominate the UK secondary school ICT curriculum with Office 'skills,' are now set fair to introduce them to children as young as 4. This brings to mind, a phrase long attributed to the Jesuits, "Give me the child till the age of seven and I will show you the man."
Now Steve Balmer is no Jesuit so how has this come about?
The recent Primary Curriculum Review by Sir Jim Rose has been widely reported in the press and there is plenty to read. The ICT part of the review is aptly summarised by this BBC reporter's title.
Computer technology is to move centre stage alongside English, Maths and personal skills in an overhaul of England's primary school curriculum.
Sir Jim: "From what I have seen on my visits, the best schools demonstrate that these priorities - literacy, numeracy, ICT and personal development - are crucial for giving children their entitlement to a broad and balanced education."
He goes on to say the level of lessons in information, communication and technology (ICT) currently taught in secondary schools should now be taught to primary-age pupils. He believes that much of the ICT currently taught at Key Stage 3 in secondary school should be taught in the Primary Sector.
Sir Jim said children today were computer literate from a young age and should be taught to use podcasts, word processing and computer presentations in primary school. He recommends the Internet become embedded in the curriculum, with pupils using websites like Google Earth and Wikipedia.
It doesn't sound too scary, maybe a little too much of the starry-eyed computer love-in one associates with the older generation*, but Ok, so kids do make use of technology at an early age and they certainly could use this as part of their state-funded learning.
But, and you knew a 'but' was coming, Key Stage 3 ICT! Does anyone that reads this post actually know what is taught in KS3 ICT? If you do you will know that it is probably the most boring, irrelevant material known to mankind. And what is more it is almost 100% Microsoft.
You don't have to believe me, the figures in schools speak for themselves, ICT GCSE is in free fall with a 20% drop year on in, and Ofsted says in a report published this week, that the popularity of information and communication technology is declining rapidly in school despite its importance in adult life!! I really don't have to go any further to establish this point.
Reality versus Rhetoric
If you look at KS3 curricula you will find they are dominated by presentations, word processing, data-handling and desktop processing with a gratuitous sprinkling of new stuff like making podcasts and movies.
If you then go to the official government web sites produced by such as the QCA, the DFCS and Becta or the examination boards such as OCR and AQA you will find that even if the above courses are stultifying boring, have nothing to do with education and everything to do with training, there is no injunction to use Microsoft products to deliver them.
So that's ok then?
No it's not. Specification is not the same as delivery.
When you follow links on these sites for where to get teaching resources to deliver your courses you will be directed to something helpful but not so even handed.
- For example one of the most popular resources sites is www.teach-ict.com. Helpful lesson plans for download: worksheets, presentations and projects abound. You guessed it: MS Word, MS Excel, MS PowerPoint; MS Moviemaker.
- Or consider the OCR exam board's New CLAIT materials at KS3. No longer does it specify Microsoft software (It did once) until you find out that to carry out any tests as an accredited exam centre you must use MS Operating Systems.
- one of the most useful and popular sites for teaching is the teachers.tv video site. Yes you guessed it, the spreadsheet demo uses MS Excel...
...and so on and on.
I can hear folk saying now, 'don't be so sensitive, the reality is that most schools have Microsoft Office and it would be ridiculous to provide resources for software they don't use'.
I fully acknowledge this, I would like things to be different but this is unlikely until schools really do run out of money and with that the desire to hand over billions to Microsoft. My point is that this KS3 reality is about to be imported into the primary sector.
In this sector of course the vast majority of machines the have are running a Windows OS but generally there is no overwhelming imperative to buy MS Office which is way too sophisticated to be necessary for most adults in any case.
My objection is simple.
Taxpayer's money should not be used to actively indoctrinate children of Primary School age into the commercially exploitative world of Microsoft.
It does not matter that this would only come about 'inadvertently' by the default lock-in extant in the Secondary schools. it would be unethical if the reality inside primary schools should not reflect the software even-handedness so self-consciously presented by the official ICT documenation.
The only, very real hope, is that KS3 ICT is so boring that the primary aged children will simply ignore it whilst having a giggle at the adults trying to demonstrate it.
*cf G Brown on YouTube, hip and happenin' or what?