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School ICT to be replaced by computer science programme

11 January 12 17:39
Pupils using computers
By Judith Burns
Education reporter, BBC News

The current information and communications technology (ICT) curriculum in England's schools is a "mess" and must be radically revamped, the education secretary has announced.

From September it will be replaced by a flexible curriculum in computer science and programming, designed with the help of universities and industry.

Michael Gove called the current ICT curriculum "demotivating and dull".

He will begin a consultation next week on the new computing curriculum.

He said this would create young people "able to work at the forefront of technological change".

Speaking at the BETT show for educational technology in London, Mr Gove announced plans to free up schools to use curricula and teaching resources that properly equip pupils for the 21st Century.

He said that resources, developed by experts, were already available online to help schools teach computer science and he wants universities and businesses to devise new courses and exams, particularly a new computing GCSE.

The education secretary said the inadequate grounding in computing offered by the current curriculum was in danger of damaging Britain's economic prospects.

He called for a revival of the legacy of British computer pioneer Alan Turing whose work in the 1930s laid the foundation of the modern computing industry.

"Imagine the dramatic change which could be possible in just a few years, once we remove the roadblock of the existing ICT curriculum.

"Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word or Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations," he said.

Computer games entrepreneur Ian Livingstone, an adviser to Mr Gove, envisages a new curriculum that could have 16-year-olds creating their own apps for smartphones and 18-year-olds able to write their own simple programming language.

'Slaves to the interface'

Mr Livingstone, co-author of last year's Next Gen report which highlighted the poor quality of computer teaching in schools, told BBC news: "The current lessons are essentially irrelevant to today's generation of children who can learn PowerPoint in a week."

"It's a travesty given our heritage as the most creative nation in the world.

"Children are being forced to learn how to use applications, rather than to make them. They are becoming slaves to the user interface and are totally bored by it," he said.

Other experts voiced concerns about a shortage of teachers qualified to deliver the new curriculum.

Bill Mitchell, of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, said: "It is tremendous that Michael Gove is personally endorsing the importance of teaching computer science in schools.

"There are, of course, significant challenges to overcome, specifically with the immediate shortage of computer science teachers."

While Prof Steve Furber, chairman of an imminent Royal Society report on computing in schools, said non-specialist teachers might find the plethora of alternative teaching resources confusing.

"We look forward to hearing more about how the government intends to support non-specialist teachers who make up the majority of the workforce in delivering an excellent ICT education without official guidance on lesson content," he said.

'More web design'

Nick D'Aloisio, a schoolboy from London, developed his own app to simplify searches on the internet while studying for his GCSEs.

The 16-year-old said web design lessons in Year 9 helped sparked his interest.

"That was a useful introduction into the world of programming and design," he told BBC News.

"And so I think if we can get in schools across the country more web design, more programming lessons, even if it's very basic, we can raise awareness among students of the world of applications and how anyone can pretty much code a successful application these days."

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg MP said: "It is right to identify that the ICT curriculum needs to be reformed to fit with the times.

"That's why Labour said last year that pupils need to understand the mechanisms and coding behind computer programmes - not just learning how to use a word processor, enter data into a worksheet or design a power-point presentation.

"As well as updating programmes of study, we need better teacher training, higher standards and continual assessment of what pupils are being taught."

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