Is there more to computers than coding?
Recently, the government announced that it was going to scrap the GCSE and A-Level ICT courses in favour of Computer science. While there is a need for more children to be exposed to coding (I wrote in my previous blog about why we are seeing this shift away from traditional ICT skills to coding.), I fear the decision may be a little short sighted. We are in danger of throwing out the good practice in favour of the current educational trend.
Whereas computer science is focussed on writing code and a knowledge of how computers operate, ICT taught functional skills that could be used in the workplace, such as how to use office software. It also explored the ways in which networks and systems are designed. We run the risk of creating a generation of digital illiterates without the basic word processing, spreadsheet and database skills that are required in many professions.
An analogy for this would be Computing as the design and manufacture of cars and ICT the knowledge of how to fix them when they go wrong. There is some overlap but they are two distinct skillsets.
“We advised and believe that IT is an important, complementary and distinct subject area from computer science which also differs from digital literacy; therefore it is beneficial to have separate qualifications.” Bill Mitchell of BCS (British Computing Society)
We sometimes assume that because our children are becoming ever more ‘tech-savvy’ that this is transferrable to any device. In my experience as a primary teacher, I have seen children as young as five who can operate an iPad or similar device like a pro. However, since the rise in tablet use the skills of how to operate a pc have shown a sharp decline. I for one am guilty of spending 95% of my screen time using a phone or tablet. I have no need to use a pc unless I need to write more than a few words or edit a video.
ICT can and should be taught as a cross curricular skill. Children can develop their skills by creating presentations about the topics they are researching. They can create databases of historical figures or volcanoes from around the world. The flaw in this is however, they need to have an understanding of the basic skills of how to use the computer/software in the first place.
Knowing how to create a file and save it appropriately, may seem a simple enough skill to us, but imagine you had never experienced the windows operating system environment? Tablets are optimised for touch input. To achieve this, controls need to be simple, intuitive and often lead you through a process. Now imagine you are faced with the intricacy of the well-known office software suite. Often the function we need is hidden within two or three sub menus. Is it any wonder that people struggle to use them well without training?
At primary level, we will continue to teach these skills. We will show the children how to touch type, create presentations and organise files effectively. I believe that secondary teachers will have to continue teaching these skills even though there is not official associated qualification. They will have no choice if we want our children to compete in the work place.
Creating a balance between the need for children to learn how to write algorithms and giving them the skills they need to succeed in an ever-digitising world needs to be our priority. The argument that primary schools will cover all the skills needed by the time they leave is sadly not true. While we try our best, the truth is that a skills gap among primary teachers exists with many not having the skills they need to teach the children effectively.
This is not a lack of enthusiasm, but a need for more training. Primary teachers need to be taught how to use ICT skills and how to teach coding.
I hope that access to courses such as the European Computer Driving licence will help bridge the gap left behind by the scrapping of these courses. With computer science courses reliant on a basic ability to use a computer, we may be unwittingly creating a two-tier society. Those who are digitally literate and those who are not. This coupled with the rise of touch screen devices, could make for the perfect storm.