So why computing? Why not ICT?
In the early days of computers and computing, users had no choice but to create their own programs and algorithms. Computers would only do what you could tell it. Software companies such as IBM, Microsoft and Apple began to produce home computers that could be used by anyone. With this came the development of software designed to fulfil a single purpose. The early spreadsheets and word processors allowed for time-consuming tasks such as bookkeeping to be automated.
I was lucky enough to be at school as the first computers were making their way into school. We were exposed to computer games such as “Granny’s Garden”, which was one of the first educational games. However, we were also encouraged to explore the power of programming in basic or logo. As I made my way through school, the technology advanced and the focus shifted away from the programming aspects to more functional office skills to prepare us for the modern workplace.
In my last 15 years as a teacher, I have seen a large push towards ICT and digital literacy (the ability to use computers to create, using commercially available software). Children have been encouraged to use word processors, paint packages and the internet to produce pieces of work. This has led to some fantastic work being created, but it has also created a generation of consumers who are happy to work within the constraints of the software they use.
We now face a skills gap of those people who are able to look beyond the system constraints and ask “what if?”. Industry needs people who can create software and hardware, people who can code the websites that we use every day. We also need people who can work to keep us safe from the ever-growing threat of cyber-crime and cyber terrorism.
In response to this, Michael Gove announced an entirely new computing curriculum as part of his New National Curriculum (2014).
“Our school system has not prepared children for this new world. Millions have left school over the past decade without even the basics they need for a decent job. And the current curriculum cannot prepare British students to work at the very forefront of technological change.” Michael Gove
With many large businesses supporting the coding initiative, it will become more and more embedded in our school curriculum. Barclays’s Bank have released their own coding resources, while the BBC has created and released a ‘microbit’ programmable device that will allow children to create their own LED display sequences.
The hour of code initiative has massive support in the United States with internet giants such as Mark Zuckerberg showing his support. App makers Rovio have allowed their characters to be used in the exercises as a way to hook the children’s interest.
“This is a really exciting time to be a pupil at primary school. The opportunities that advances in technology will bring to your pupils as they grow up are hard to imagine. The curiosity, creativity and courage that you nurture in them now should endure as they move on through education and into adult life. To exploit fully the opportunities that current and future technology offers them, pupils will draw on the understanding of computing you provide them with, as well as confidence gained through working on a range of meaningful projects throughout their primary education.” Computing at school.
With the new curriculum, we hope to inspire the next Gates, Zuckerberg or Jobs. The children who are taking their first tentative steps into writing code today may be the innovators of the future. Technology has advanced greatly in my lifetime from the very first home computers to an age where even your home heating can be controlled from your phone. Through the teaching of computing, we can empower children by equipping them with the tools to advance our lives ever further.
Tim is a teacher in a large primary school, he has been teaching coding in his school for four years and coordinated ICT/computing for the past thirteen. He leads a cluster for local primary schools working to raise attainment in computing.