U.K. CIO calls for more business-relevant ICT teaching

The Royal Society report on reforming computing education in schools does not go far enough in redefining the subject, according a BG Group CIO.

The new report,‘Shut down or restart? The way forward for computing in UK schools‘, is calling for the term ‘ICT’ to be scrapped and for the teaching of it to be redefined as three separate strands – digital literacy, computer science and information technology.

But Christine Ashton, regional CIO EMEAI at energy company BG Group, questioned whether IT has become such a large discipline that the teaching of it needed to be broken down into more detailed categories, to equip students with the skills needed for the workplace.

“I am not sure the report goes far enough, and I wonder whether in addition to IT, digital literacy and computer science, further categories are required. I would support the definition of further categories, such as applied technology design and applied business technology.

“These further categories, in addition to better supporting IT trends, would, in my view, provide more choice and therefore opportunities for students to specialise and develop specific skills to match the different aspects of IT,” she said.

Ashton also highlighted the fact that the new IT curriculum would need to be rigorous enough to keep up with the technological change that takes place in the period between formal education and the work place.

“Pupils doing A-Level computer science today will enter the workforce in five years’ time. Commodity computing, that is, cloud and off-premise computing such as Google Apps, will develop massively in that time,” she warned.

Maggie Berry, managing director of womenintechnology.co.uk, while welcoming the report, agreed with Ashton.

“[IT] is a sector that moves at a very fast pace. School curriculums need to be regularly reviewed and updated and teachers provided with real examples of how computing skills can be used in the world of work.

“IT is a growing, exciting and cutting-edge industry that offers multiple different career paths and job opportunities – school children need to be equipped now with the right computing education that will enable them, both girls and boys, to become the future generation of IT professionals who might create the next world-changing system or service,” she said.

Meanwhile, Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for innovation and science, believes that the Royal Society report missed an opportunity to tackle the issue of gender imbalance in the study of computer science, which it merely acknowledges in the 100-plus page report.

“I think the Royal Society report makes a number of important points not included in [education minister Michael] Gove’s speech, regarding skills, infrastructure and equipment. But I am shocked at the limited reference to the failure of computer science to attract girls.

“Only 7.5 percent of A-Level entries in 2011 were girls, less than half the proportion who did physics. You would think that would merit more than an aside,” she said.

The report’s chair, Professor Steve Furber, argued, however, that having the right teachers will help to boost interest in the subject in all children.

“If we get the teachers in the right place, with the right motivation, then that will encourage the girls’ as well as the boys’ interest in this subject area,” he said.

Mandy Honeyman, ICT co-ordinator and IT operations co-ordinator at Linton Village College, Cambridge, and a member of the report’s advisory group, agreed: “Young women I know are very pragmatic about their choices, and if they understand that computer science is equally important as physics and maths, they will choose it. But if they don’t understand that, then they won’t.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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