New school ICT: In pursuit of excellence

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We face radical changes in the education world. Now the dust is settling it is possible to see ahead more clearly. What is becoming clear is that the combination of changes announced over the past few weeks effectively brings to a close the national curriculum era.

Schools will as a consequence have much more freedom and they wont be struggling from savage budgets cuts either, many indeed will have more spending power. This situation represents a massive opportunity to revive ICT in schools which steadily had become a moribund consumerist travesty-of-a-subject during the co-incidental Microsoft era.

The opportunity is to buy new hardware, new software, new services and do new things. But what is more important is that is raises the possibility of experiencing excellence in ICT.

This post suggests what sort of things may be done... but though many barriers have been removed, others remain which must be dealt with first.

Chief among these are:

ICT Teachers and their Technicians.

Employed in schools are a generation of ICT teachers who are very different from their predecessors who pioneered the introduction of ICT into schools. The former, through no fault of their own now have only to 'teach ICT' leaving the technical bits to a new class of support-worker who service the apparatus by which the prescribed curricula are delivered.

The result has been near disastrous. The average ICT teacher has mastered a few applications that appear on GCSE syllabuses and has a generalist knowledge of subjects such as 'robots in society', 'data protection' and viruses. The technicians meanwhile can keep a MS Windows network going. Dichotomizing ICT in this way effectively freezes it, unfortunately it has been frozen in mediocrity.

GCSE ICT and its ilk are in effect 'White Collar ICT' and as such is designed to serve the virtual world of the office bound bureaucrat. If this sounds a little worrying, it should.

White Collar ICT education is, (as described by Martin Crawford in his wonderful book 'The Case for Working with Your Hands or Why Office Work is Bad for US and Fixing Things Feels Good') merely an apprenticeship for 'clerkdom'. Worse, any workplace-ICT skills that are acquired by our students are readily outsourced anywhere in the world; so we should say 'soon to be redundant clerkhood'.

Craft skills by contrast, those derived from the 'trade of IT' where excellence thrives, will uniquely be either be in the music department where vast suites of multimedia exotica are lashed together by enthusiastic musicians or in DT where a PIC board has modified parts of a CNC lathe thanks to a soldering iron and a chap in a brown coat. In other words ICT excellence exists within the domain of craftsman/woman-teachers.

ICT Teachers of the white collar variety only learn new applications if they are given training. Moreover few have any desire to do stuff with their hands..if you don't believe me audit a school's ICT collection. You will find (unused and still in wrappers sometimes), 'Turtles', Robotics kit, Data-Loggers hardware waiting patiently for someone to dust them off.

In effect they (the teachers) are an evolutionary dead end bound for Business Studies teaching which is the very epitome of white collar futility: for our revivalist purposes above they are useless. ICT revival will come from different sources.

These are, I contend, the workshop and the student.

I am sure the late, much missed, sage and colleague Richard Rothwell would be jumping up and down in agreement at this point as it was he many years ago that showed me how to lash up a home made data-logger onto a PC's serial port..so outraged was he at the cost of proprietary versions.

Richard was a craftsman, so this is for him:

New School ICT (Craft based)

There is no point ranting away without making some suggestions to be tilted at. Below are some suggestions.

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