Although the IT industry broadly welcomed education minister Michael Gove’s announcement today of a fundamental overhaul in the way ICT is taught in schools, those at the ‘chalkface’ were much more wary.
Teachers whom Computerworld UK spoke to today at education technology show BETT and via email, have expressed concern about the training needed to make Gove’s proposals a success.
“It’s [Gove’s proposals] really good but the one thing missing is training for teachers,” said Mark Hellen, a lecturer responsible for ICT in the educational studies department at Goldsmiths’ College, London.
“Computing in schools is going to be expensive and it means training teachers to do it.”
Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for innovation and science, agreed: “I welcome the proposals to improve the quality and extent of such an important subject as computer science in classrooms, but have concerns that resources and the teachers need to be there and qualified in order to make these policies work.”
At ICT coordinator Ian Addison’s primary school, St John the Baptist, in Hampshire, for example, he said he is the only teacher who is happy to use games design as a teaching tool.
“Computing is not something that teachers do. It needs to be based on simple enough software that we can use. Teachers (sometimes) find it hard to keep up.”
Teachers need to understand the subjects they are teaching in depth, and not be simply one step ahead of their students. “It’s about having the confidence to carry on when things go wrong,” he said.
Teachers were also concerned about the useful parts of the existing ICT curriculum that could be lost as a result of a refocus on programming.
Lynn Roberts, a lecturer at the Institute of Education who trains primary school teachers, said: “I’m really interested that there’s going to be a shift to computer science, but I’m also aware we will lose a whole strand of new media literacy [for example teaching children how to make their own online videos]. Where does it fit in the curriculum? We need to make sure that it doesn’t drop off the agenda.”
John Botham, a former head teacher and now education director at network solution provider D-Link, agreed: “As a teacher, I would be much more interested in how people use ICT and what they use it for. I think we should be teaching skills they’re [children] going to use in the workplace.”
Meanwhile, Robert Berry, director of ICT at Royal Grammar School, Worcester, said that there was little point in changing the ICT curriculum unless students are also encouraged to take up the new computer science-focused courses.
“Mr Gove needs to consider in the current climate of league tables that pupils, parents, as well as, sadly, teachers and schools will be only too aware of the relative difficulty of some courses (for example, computing) for example, in contrast to geography.
“Students will vote with their feet, and in many cases, with an eagle eye on their UCAS form, will be very keen to ensure as many A* grades as possible, irrelevant of the subjects.”
He added: “I suggest we need to provide not just ICT courses, or just computing courses, but a range of high quality courses, and allow young people to realise their talents. In many cases, an improvement in basic numeracy and literacy will be far more beneficial to lots of young people than the ability to write a ‘mobile app’.”