Computing Education – working together to make it work.

There has been much media coverage of the Education Secretary’s speech about enabling a new approach to teaching ICT and computing in schools.  I’ve been catching up with it in the Guardian. Not many links in this blog, probably because it’s a personal, strongly held opinion.

I feel these changes are long overdue; however I’m breathing a sigh of relief that something might finally be happening.  I personally would like to see every student having access to a wealth of computing learning at school, including computer science and programming.

I have particular interest for a number of reasons:

- my first job out of university was as a Programmer for CAP working on the computer software for the automation of Stanlow Oil refinery;

- as a mature student, I took  a Masters in Electronic Communication Systems at the University of Hertfordshire;

- recent experience as a secondary school maths teacher has shown me both the positive and negative sides of a structured curriculum (ensures it’s available to all, but can be tedious to cover);

- working as the National STEM Careers Coordinator has shown me how enrichment and enhancement activities can make a difference to learning in school, but too many different ways of engaging can cause confusion and dilute the impact of available funding;

- and finally, I have a son in year 9, and we are helping him choose his GCSE options.  Computing is currently not available. 

So I am excited at the prospect of change.  It is time of great opportunity, and I’m really hoping all the stakeholders work together to maximise the impact.  There has been a lot in the news about the impact for UK plc.  But I also would like to see exposure to some level of computing for all young people, whether or not they are looking for a career at ARM or Google. 

My excitement is, however, tinged with concern.  Schools will be given the opportunity to incorporate different elements in their teaching – but will that enable all young people to have the opportunity and experience?  This is where, as a mother, I am wondering how it will be approached by my childrens’ school (most specifically, what will be available to my year 7 daughter), rather than as an employer wanting to ensure suitably qualified candidates to recruit. I have already been looking for distance learning Computing GCSEs for my son, but there is not much around to suit him.

Another concern is how these changes are supported.  When I first got involved in the previous government’s STEM programme in 2008, there were so many organisations wanting to promote science, and so many different kinds of activities available that offering was potentially very confusing, and probably not best use of the funding available.

In terms of ICT and Computing, we could find ourselves in a similar situation, unless there is some kind of coordination.  Having been a member of the BCS (the chartered institute for IT), and worked with e-Skills UK, I have little doubt that the willingness is there to share knowledge and avoid duplication.  I also know that the current government will not be likely to set up a formal structure for that coordination.  The important thing is to set up channels, whether formal or informal, to communicate, coordinate, and where appropriate, collaborate, because the final outcome of giving our young people a worthwhile computer learning experience, and supplying suitably employable UK educated recruits to the UK companies, means so much more than the glory of any individual project. 

Having said that …. can I have a Raspberry-Pi for my birthday?