Time for school IT to teach Open Source

The Royal Society has just warned that Information technology lessons in UK schools are so dull they are putting pupils off the subject, and of course the idea of a career in IT.So no surprises there then. I take no satisfaction in the fact that...

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The Royal Society has just warned that Information technology lessons in UK schools are so dull they are putting pupils off the subject, and of course the idea of a career in IT.

So no surprises there then. I take no satisfaction in the fact that we have been raising this alarm for years.

The truth of the matter is that the world-view that is 'taught' in these lessons has been eroding now for an entire decade and, more to the point, the technology world that schoolchildren live in bears no relation to it, and they know it.

If you live in a world of daily technology use, rapidly changing online services, social networking, instant messaging and an explosion of new devices, new form factors and new platforms the 'essential skill' of creating a Microsoft Access database or writing an essay in Microsoft Word will seem as interesting and relevant to you as learing to drive a horse and cart to the owner of a Ferrari... that is, not much.

The schoolchildren's response is not only understandable, it shows intelligence and realism way beyond those who have chosen this set of historical anachronisms to teach them.

Everything interesting happening in Information technology is driven by Open Source, enabled by Open Source, or contains a big chunk of Open Source.

You think I exaggerate? not at all... Open Source is the technology of choice behind everything of interest in the online world, and social networking sites are jam-packed with OSS old favourites (and not just LAMP stacks) and sparkling new ones. Cloud and SaaS? even conservative firms like Gartner will tell you these are up to 90% composed of Open

Source technologies. New devices like netbooks may get colonised by the still mighty market muscle of monopolists, but they come to market on a wave of desktop Linux, and the phone market is awash with it. Oh, and while we're here please don't tell me "but what about Apple?" before you take a look and see quite how much Open Source you find behind the scenes in MacOS and their other offerings.

The truth is the old, tired, world of proprietary same-old-same-old is fading fast and being replaced by a much more interesting one. In fact one of the few places you'll find the tired old world-view is in Information Technology lessons in schools...

So yes, Royal Society, well done... you've finally noticed what our schoolchildren have known for several years now. IT lessons in school really are dull, but more to the point, they are irrelevant to the world the schoolchildren are growing up in and will soon encounter in the workspace - and they know it.

The Royal Society is now intending to study: 'Computing in schools and its importance and implications for the economic and scientific well-being of the UK'. Let me tell you, now, what they will find:

If we continue to teach a dying set of technologies and a dying way of doing things, we will further seriously damage our scientific and economic well-being.

Let me translate that further. We will contine to churn out a few people who can support a set of increasingly quaint and old-fashioned proprietary technologies, whilst abdicating any chance we now have of building in indigenous IT industry and taking our rightful place as an innovator, and revenue-generator in the rapidly growing world-wide technology market of the future.

The UK invented many of the foundations of what has come to be called Information Technology, but for cultural, educational and political reasons we failed to capitalise on them. We currently have embryonic capabilities in Open Source the equal of anywhere in the world, and we still have the chance to be a player. The problems highlighted by the Royal Society can still be dealt with, but we must act now...