Can the UK raise its game?


Is lack of computer science teaching failing pupils?

Where are the jobs and economic growth of the future going to come from? The creative industries, and notably the games business, is one answer.

But, as we explain in a film for Newsnight tonight, games industry executives do not believe that our education system can deliver the skills it needs to compete globally.

The industry veteran Ian Livingstone, the man behind Lara Croft, told us that the UK could be proud of its record in creating world-beating games - but the future does not look so bright.

"We're very very good at making games - but we need the skills. We need computer scientists, animators, artists and there aren't enough of them," he said.

And like many across the wider technology industry, he blames our skills shortage on ICT, the subject which is the current mainstay of computer education in our schools:

"Somehow the classroom got hijacked by ICT. And that is learning about Powerpoint, Word, Excel - useful but boring after more than a week of learning it. "

In a report for the government called Next Gen, Livingstone and his co-author Alex Hope, call for computer science to be brought into the national curriculum, and for a programme to recruit the best teachers to the subject.

Secretarial skills

The idea is that, instead of dull lessons in handling office productivity software, a new generation would be taught to get their hands dirty with programming - "teach our kids to code" is the slogan of a growing movement calling for change.

Children looking at computer How early should children be taught computer science?

We visited one school in Cambridge where computer science is taught, albeit at A-level. Both the teacher and the students in the class we filmed at Long Road Sixth Form College felt too much time was being wasted earlier in the education system.

One teenager told us that ICT classes had been pointless - "they teach you to be a secretary."

And Adam McNichol - one of the few teaching this subject who has a computer science degree - told us the whole education system needed to change, so that the value of the subject was recognised.

Apparently, quite a few of his best students drop computer science at A-level because top universities are still sniffy about it.

We also visited David Braben, the man who created the legendary game Elite in the 1980s and went on to run a successful games business.

I've written before about his Raspberry Pi project, which aims to put a £15 computer in classrooms to teach a new generation to code.

Arts/science divide

That prospect is coming closer, with the charity planning to bring out a first version of the device by the end of the year. But Braben agrees that there is a wider cultural issue, with a lack of respect for the sciences from those in the arts:

"If you're a scientist, and you don't know a particular artistic question you get sneered at - but with the reverse, there's no expectation that a guy who knows about arts would know about technical questions."

It is an subject which was raised by the Google chairman Eric Schmidt in a speech in Edinburgh in August, where he expressed amazement that computer science was not taught in British schools.

Eric Schmidt Google's boss says the UK is "throwing away" its "great computing heritage"

That has given the movement pressing for change some serious ammunition.

Ian Livingstone, whose report is currently awaiting a response from the government, believes that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport understands the issue - but fears that the Department for Education is not listening.

But over recent weeks I have heard from dozens of people - from ICT teachers to games industry executives to school students - who are passionate about the need for change.

And this revolution may be pushing at an open door.

A government desperate to prove it has a growth strategy is in the mood to listen to those who say Britain can be a winner again in an industry that marries the arts and sciences.

Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology correspondent Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I agree with this wholeheartedly, in the 90s, when the gaming industry was really starting its meteoric rise, the UK was one of the major centres pushing the industry. Grand theft auto games were developed here, Lara croft is another one, but over time we just haven't encouraged this development.

    With education or favourable tax environment, UK is seriously losing out to other nations...

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I remember being very disillusioned with IT at school as I'd learned to use an office suite at home years before and by the time we were being taught it in school, I was building my own PCs, programming and teaching myself about networking, so 2 years of IT on obsolete systems seemed very demeaning. The biggest problem was that most other subjects had classes based on ability (sets) but IT didn't

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Sorry but what they say is rubbish i went away got a degree in computer software engineering i applied and applied and applied for companies all of them wanted 5 years experience 3 AAA titles and to be able to work for minimum wage. They were not even prepared to take on entry level positions. So frankly the games industry will loose out because they just are not prepared to try somthing new.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    This just shows how the great push for 'targets' has turned education in simple exam result training. The worst culprits are parents, who choose schools solely by league tables, rather than the overall education provided.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    My 13 year-old is slowly teaching himself the programming skills he needs and wants to develop his interest in gaming. He is utterly dismissive of the ICT at school. Something is going badly wrong if the kids seem to have a better grasp of some skills than their teachers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    ICT in schools is nothing more than a basic training course in all things Microsoft. most if not all kids these days have NO IDEA how a computer works, it's just another gadget like an iPod, children should be given a broad range of experiences on different platforms such as Linux, Unix and they should get in there coding and scripting and learning how to make the computer do inspiring things.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I'm still looking for the space craft with the cloaking device - I got the message in 1985, but was distracted by a pupil and failed to note the galaxy - so here I am, wandering Galaxies in the hope of finding it and becoming Elite - my BBC B psu exploding last year has hindered that search, although I've now fixed that, I can't seem to get power to the disk drive. Forget GTA Elite is ace


  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    The problem that was signposted 50 years ago in Snow's "The Two Cultures". Snobby Oxbridge clones programmed in the classics, arts & PPE dominate Whitehall, the media and the whole liberal establishment. And, now we also have to contend with the gormless obsession with performing arts making it even harder to interest children in real skills and jobs in tech, science and engineering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The transfer of computer science to ICT in schools was driven by Educationalist who wanted to soften the skill set. Computer Science departments felt that their subject area status was undermined by it being taught in schools. There was also a claimComputer Science being taught badly. We now have the trivial IT courses that were the results. CAS is trying to do something about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I'm only in my 20s and only had a handful of IT lessons in my time at school. Not sure what it is like now, but computing was definitely under-taught in UK schools in the early 2000s.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Pupils are definitely being put off from computing because of ICT, I can clearly see it in my generation. I'm currently doing an A level in computing and although it could be improved, it is actually both fun and powerful. If children knew from a young age what potential computers have, then there would undoubtedly be more interest in the subject and therefore a pick-up in the industry

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Computer games courses tend to concentrate on coding to the exclusion of all else - a game will only work if the plotline is appealing and the 'alternate reality' it creates is compelling, never mind how clever the code might be - most gamers only notice THAT when it crashes!

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    ALMOST EACH WEEK, I complain, there is NO "UK EDUCATION"
    BBC KEEPS GETTING THIS WRONG, and journalists need training!
    there is the English Curriculum, and- Scotland has always had its own system.ALWAYS.
    stop using incorrect terms, fed up with ignorance.
    this is bad journalism, and you dont pay heed, responsible reporters ought to stop saying UK EDUCATION,SCHOOLS etc.
    don`t say UK FOR_ ENGLAND!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Once again, sciences suffering in our schools. We have a generation, maybe two generations, who know lots about things, without knowing how *to do* them. Why? Because a majority of students will take what they perceive to be the easiest option. Arts are not easier, but so's long as the perception exists and poor standards (across the board) are accepted, why would a child choose differently?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I.C.T as I remember it was a introduction to widely used computer programs, and there were opportunities for students to broaden their knowledge in regards to animation and design. Nevertheless, it would appear that schools struggle immensely in keeping up with the huge and regular advances in computer technology, not to mention the financial burden of the market.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    as an ex ICT teacher, recently retired, I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed here. It was not the desire to improve my letter writing, or powerpoint skills, that pushed me to do a degree in ICT, it was Space Invaders, and the desire to create similar games. Whilst education is run by accountants/businessment there will be no creativity in education. Give life to creativity now.


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