The Royal Society published a much anticipated article last week on computing in schools. Shut down or restart? is a much needed analysis of the state of affairs for UK students. Personally, I’ve always felt let down by the computing education I received so I’m very glad to see this.
I appreciated Paul Nurse’s foreward to the report, mentioning that “certain way of thinking” computer scientists have that I see many young undergraduates struggle with significantly.
A prominent point from the report is “computer science as a rigorous academic discipline”. It seems to me that students are often only exposed to “computing” in a cursory approximation of digital literacy. So much time is wasted in boring lessons rehashing skills that are innate to modern students. Why?! If computer science was taken seriously in schools we could spark so many more potential programmers; increase the quality of futher education applicants and increase the product of computing education as a whole. Imagine if every first-year university students understood how their CPU worked, the difference between operating systems and flow control. They can do trigonometry, describe the phospholipid bilayer and explain fission – so why should computer science be any less important in this day and age.
The main negative points seem to be that curricula are open to broad interpretation, teacher ability is limited and undeveloped, and school infrastructure inhibits teaching. The scope of computing is also not well understood; particularly the academic discipline of computer science. Students should have a much broader selection of computing degrees available to them.
I’m particularly glad that the value of A-level computing is pointed out. Few higher education institutes require it. I took it because I wanted to study computer science and though it would be extremely valuable, but I regret it and wish I had chosen a different subject and done something worthwhile with my time.
Anyway, the report is substantial and I can’t claim to have read it all yet, but here are a few nice quotes:
The term ‘ICT’ should no longer be used as it has attracted too many negative connotations.
Computer Science is a rigorous academic discipline and needs to be recognised as such in schools
..the long-term aim should be to move to a situation where there are sufficient specialist teachers to enable all young people to study Information Technology and Computer Science..
Information Technology and Computer Science are distinct subjects, with different purposes, although they have areas of synergy. Computer Science is an academic discipline, in the same way that mathematics and physics are.
Computer Science is sufficiently important and foundational that it should be recognised as a high status subject in schools, like mathematics, physics or history.
..it is important that teachers have access to good quality CPD, particularly given the lack of specialists. This will be essential to support a new curriculum in schools.
I’m really excited about where this report could take us over the next few years. I’m also really excited because I just sent my little brother a Big Trak as an introduction to programming, hopefully soon he can have something Turing complete.
Related to this report, BCS Mid-Wales and Technocamps (both of which I am associated with) are holding a panel event titled “From Digital Literacy to Computing in Schools” on the 24th at Aberystwyth University, details and sign up here: http://technocampsbcsjan24.eventbrite.co.uk/?ebtv=C
Speaking of Technocamps, I helped out at a workshop in Aberystwyth towards the end of December, looking forward to a few more in 2012!