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30 March 2012 - 11:57am | posted by | 5 comments

Dear Mr Gove: Digital skills need to be taught in schools, not just Computer Science

Dear Mr Gove: Digital skills need to be taught in schools, not just Computer Science Dear Mr Gove: Digital skills need to be taught in schools, not just

In January the government derided the current ICT teaching at schools as a "mess" and announced its replacement by Computer Science and Programming modules.

From the little exposure I have had to some of the teaching materials, I have to agree this needs to happen. The lack of quality teachers needs addressing, too.

Providing school children with exposure to all the areas of IT is the right thing to do and should build on the fact technology is central to their social lives - just try taking a teenager's mobile or iPod away.

The new curriculum must enable children to explore the different careers available and gain the skills they require for them - not just in programming and "traditional" IT roles that fall under the “Computer Science” banner used by the government, but also the careers that exist in related areas like creative, digital marketing and product design. This is a chance to create more Jonathan Ives as well as the next generation of IT experts, digital creative and marketers.

My suspicion is the Department of Education and their political masters have a blinkered view, focusing only on the careers mentioned above and the revenue companies like Google and Facebook can generate. That sort of reality distortion field will be familiar to anybody who has read Steve Job's biography.

The reality is the majority of the population will never become a programmer, digital marketer or a designer. They don't want to and they are not suited to those careers.

But all of them will use computers and technology during their lives for work and personal reasons. Everybody needs equipping with digital and information skills. These will have a direct impact on productivity, security and competitiveness on individual and company levels, nationally.

So schools must also be teaching digital skills that equip everybody to work in any industry, for example:

- The basics of digital technology (not just computers, but consumer devices, too)
- How to choose and buy devices (they're going to do this a lot in a lifetime)
- Fundamental computer skills and best practices (including how to be organised with files, the importance of back-ups etc... all the good habits that avoid data losses and add to stress when deadlines are looming)
- Security on both a technical and human level (this would also help combat online fraud and ID theft)
- Information skills (not just how to search, but also how to analyse the reliability of sources of information, and what sources there are beyond search)
- How to plan a presentation and effectively present (not just how to use PowerPoint to create a torturous, dull session of animations and smart art)
- Email and IM skills (how to communicate effectively with a "fast" medium, the draw backs of these mediums, and how to avoid email confrontations…)
- Collaborative working skills and techniques (as well as the current technologies that facilitate this)
- Digital health (RSI and back injuries, stress, declining eyesight, even Internet addiction are all recognised medical conditions that offices generally, and technology in particular, can make worse - and education can help avoid. The NHS is stretched enough as it is).

This is just my list of topics - including many of the skills I see missing in graduates, but also many older workers who had little or no IT teaching at school (myself included).

There's a real chance here to teach future generations digital skills that will fundamentally impact national productivity and international competitiveness across the UK workforce - and also create the entrepreneurs of the future.

By Duncan Parry, COO, STEAK



30 Mar 2012 - 15:23
Gordon Young's picture

Couldn't agree more. Ironically, the previous generation of kids who grow up with the BBC Computer and the like, were actually better educated about the workings of computers than the so called digital natives of today. If I was in power I would introduce coding for all five year olds. We need to show kids how to build this stuff, not simply how to work it.

31 Mar 2012 - 07:40
richa13188's picture

Kids are the same today as they were twenty, two hundred or two thousand years ago. The only thing that changes are the opportunities and the way they are taught. While parents are still reading tactile books, today’s children are embracing interactive communication. By the time their parents have accepted the e-book their children will be co-authors in the ergodic literary revolution that is growing, unnoticed by most over thirties.

If you want children to have digital coding skills learn how to teach it to them in an engaging, stimulating and rewarding way. The problem is the teacher and the lesson not the pupil. Richard

1 Apr 2012 - 23:44
robertosimi's picture

There is no question that the current teaching of ICT in schools needs addressing.

As 'digital' now almost forms part of the fabric of so many areas of society I think digital also needs to be woven into all areas of the school curriculum. ICT (with the addition of many of the things you list) should continue to be taught so that the basics are there for everyone as digital 'users'.

There is a role for developing programming skills and this option should be available and actively encouraged for those with the desire and aptitude for it. With the pace of change in our industry teaching specific technologies is less relevant when they will be outdated so quickly. It is just as important that kids see the relevance that traditional subjects have to their digital lives. These subjects will still provide much of the underlying skills that will form the future digital 'creators' required by the IT and creative industries. Maths and Physics for applying logic, analysing and solving problems, Art and History for appreciation of colour, composition and context, and the persuausive use of English language.

A bigger problem in my view is the pressure on schools to meet targets focuses them on teaching to pass exams rather than teaching to understand concepts, solve problems and try new things.

3 Apr 2012 - 06:47
Nick's picture

Technology touches all parts of our working lives no matter what the job is. Digital learning should be embedded in every subject and not treated as something that's separate and can be taken as an option.

But no matter how many improvements are made to the curriculum it's the quality of teaching that really matters.

A good teacher can teach anything. If kids can be inspired and excited by what they are taught they will learn better and quicker. I've been impressed with some of the teaching I've seen but there is no dought there is teaching which is truly shocking - there can be vast improvements in this area and everything must be done to ensure we have fantastic quality teachers making learning exciting from a very early age. That is more than half the battle.

3 Apr 2012 - 07:57
parker12's picture

Never mind IT. Teaching young people to touch type from an early age would be a massive benefit to productivity.

I'm sure someone out there could work out the time savings and benefits over a year this would make to the economy.


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