The Second Coming for school computing

"Windows 8 is the breath of fresh air that we all have been waiting for. It has been completely re-imagined for an incoming era in which we will use touch screens on tablet computers to access the Internet." Thus opined a breathless press...

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"Windows 8 is the breath of fresh air that we all have been waiting for. It has been completely re-imagined for an incoming era in which we will use touch screens on tablet computers to access the Internet."

Thus opined a breathless press release.

I am in no position to disagree, having never handled a mobile device sporting Windows 8, so like most of us my opinions are often distilled from such press releases. An experienced reader can form a more realistic judgement by translating the press blurb to an extent, but it’s only when one actually buys and uses something that you really find out what’s what.

Experience can make one rather jaundiced but this article is not about Windows (which I am sure is wonderful), but rather about three recent press releases, one of which had as much hyperbole as did the opening paragraph. They concerned computers and computing in education and should for once not be ignored, because each in its own way defines the era.

The first came from a Policy Exchange conference entitled ‘The Future of ICT in Schools... What Next?’ (no irony intended) featuring Francis Maude of the Cabinet Office and Lord Putnam of Bugsy Malone.

The second release followed Google’s Eric Schmidt’s excoriating criticism of our lack of computer education and featured government minister Eric ‘Two Brains’ Willetts and the British Computer Society (BCS). Finally BESA, the education suppliers, produced a long awaited factual report on the state of ICT in schools.

The first was a load of doomed-to-failure twaddle peddled by a class of expert well known in education who can only be described as ‘delusional naive’, the second was a load of good sense from the technical classes who came across as the ‘disillusioned naive’.

So to save you reading the releases I have summarised them for you:

The Policy Exchange - Naace conference:

Technology is changing rapidly. Our children inhabit a hyper-social virtual Digital Age and now have brains that are wired up differently to ours, so we must embrace their ‘new ways of learning’ and change our old ways of education to achieve the learning outcomes needed by er... oh yes, and buy more gadgets.

The BCS release went:

None of our children have a clue how a computer or software works, Eric has said so in the most humiliating public way and Mr Willetts agrees (and has two brains), so we are going to make sure all children are taught properly or we will go to hell in a hand cart if we are not there already.

Finally BESA said:

Schools are using ICT a bit more each year and still ask for some training but basically are just getting on with it by themselves deaf to the madness around them.

Summarising the summary: the first was the predictable product of a group made up from middle-aged social scientists who embarrassingly think their iPad makes them look cool, but are completely baffled by technology, helped along by vendors of educational technology who want to sell yet more whiteboards controlled remotely from an iPhone app... i.e. mad people.

The second was equally predictable coming from a dying technological elite who now barely have enough numbers to fill the RAM of my ZX81... i.e. desperate despairing people.

The third just told it as it is... i.e. no one is listening anyway.

A strange foreboding comes over me and I am reminded of Yeats’ poem The Second Coming:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

What we really need to do is re-imagine school ICT.

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