My $0.02!

As I mentioned below, I have written a letter to the TESS following up on the article about Computing Science Inside.  In the letter I (try to!) outline what I feel is a big problem with Computing right now – the misunderstanding at all levels as to what the subject is actually about.  Comments very welcome as always, I’ve got the asbestos suit on!

“I was very pleased to read your article about “Computing Science Inside” in last week’s TESS.  I am a self-confessed convert of Dr Cutts’ refreshing work.

I did feel however that the article only touched on what is perhaps a real problem facing Computing in Scotland: a lack of understanding of what the subject is actually about.  It’s not just the fact that “…we are becoming a nation of tool users, not tool builders…” but also the case that the two areas – ICT skills and Computer Science – are seen as one and the same by those who are responsible for the curriculum.

For several years now, there has been a great focus on developing ICT use amongst staff and pupils; the so-called “digital literacy” that enables people to communicate and make use of the technology.  Unfortunately, what this has not addressed is a real need to foster “digital creativity,” i.e. the ability to understand and further develop the technology.  This is what really matters to businesses, giving them the ability to develop new IT products and maintain a technological advantage.

This confusion of ‘true’ Computing with ICT skills has led to the typical situation in many schools around the country where Computing is taught in the first and second years as part of a general ICT course. The normal topics are based around application use and the time is shared between two or even more departments.  Some pupils don’t even see a Computing department until Standard Grade!  Ultimately, Computing has lost it’s identity as a distinct – and scientific – subject. 

On this problem though the ball is firmly in our court: Computing teachers must reassert this lost identity, and CPD such as that offered by the “Computing Science Inside” project is a step in the right direction.  What would also be a positive step would be for national subject promotion and development opportunities: several subjects already have this to varying degrees.

If Computing is to develop in schools and the decline in students applying to study at universities is to be reversed, it is vital we promote the difference between IT and Computing.  Senior Management and Local Authorities can help us too: they must take on board this crucial difference and give Computing its’ rightful place in the curriculum.”

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5 Responses to My $0.02!

  1. AB says:

    I think you are spot on here Mark – what troubles me nationally is there seems to be a genuine confusion between your two terms. Many seem to hold the opinion that using tools is to a high level ‘creative’ (- which to a certain extent it is – you can be very creative using someone else’s tools). Computing needs to reascert itself to counter the strong voices that seem to be campaigning for its removal from the curriculum. These very same voices fail to realise that unless Computing is taught as a science, then there will be precious few in our society with the skills and knowledge needed to be the very creators and sustainers of networks, inventors of tools and pioneers in our digital future.

  2. It’s worse than you think. Some of the children with the strongest interest in IT, and aptitude for it, are put off in S1 and S2 by two years of an insufficiently challenging course, can’t face any more in S3, and opt out.

  3. SalVal says:

    You make a very good point. Even when I was in high school (which was a good few years ago now!), the pre-standard grade Computing was about word processors and spreadsheets. Very useful and all, but not much of an insight into Computer Science.

    ICT skills and Computer Science are very different things – perhaps the Computing departments should become linked in with Physics, Chemistry & Biology?

    Scottish universities have some excellent CompSci courses, but the schools need to be generating the interest from as early an age as possible to start the process rolling.

  4. David Bethune says:

    See quote below from http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=ConWebDoc.8483: There is a huge need in the UK for GRADUATE level Computing / IT professionals. We need to re-educate our Guidance teachers.

    “Although BCS has warmly welcomed the report, which it believes has added a much needed fillip to IT’s negative media image by spotlighting genuine programme successes across both private and public sectors, it is also issuing a stark warning: Britain is fast falling behind its global competitors in generating both the interest and enthusiasm needed to persuade young people to study computer science or pursue a career in IT. The problems may start with the way children are introduced to IT and computing in schools.

    According to BCS CEO David Clarke, “The NAO report has rightly attributed successful IT project completion to a new and growing recognition by IT professionals of the importance of senior level management engagement; few of whom fully comprehend IT. This is very much in line with the BCS’s IT Professionalism programme which has been successfully promoting greater engagement between the IT profession and the board room led business process.

    “Senior management understanding and support for the BCS IT Professionalism programme has already led to nearly fifty UK corporates within the last six months choosing to partner BCS through our corporate membership scheme in assisting their respective IT departments to pursue relevant IT service management skills.

    “Yet our academic membership, including nearly all the heads of computer science at British universities, are predicting that the growing demand for skilled IT professionals will be frustrated by a 25 per cent shortfall of computer science graduates by 2009.

    “The future success of the British IT economy, particularly in the Nanotechnology and Biotechnology sectors will rely on the delivery of computer science graduates. The UK is not delivering these with the threat of a major skills gap opening in our thriving IT industry within five years which will impact severely on our economy”.

    from http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=ConWebDoc.8483

  5. Mark Tennant says:

    AB, David G , Salval, David B!

    thanks for the comments – it’s reassuring to know that many others have exactly the same concerns. David G – I’m well aware of the situation you describe, I am certain it has happened over the past two years across many schools with the drive to certify pupils in ICT skills as young as possible. I could hit the person who came up with the idea of teaching PC Passport (a course aimed at adult learners) to S1/2 kids!

    David B – A very interesting article, thanks. I’m sure the BCS were also quoted on the BBC not long ago warning of the skills shortfall in Britain just now.

    Cheers again!

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