Computing for the whole class

A user-friendly IT course specially designed for GCSE-age pupils is taking off in schools. Caitlin Davies reports
Click to follow
The Independent Online

You're never too young to learn how to drive - if it's a computer you're driving, that is. With one million people in the UK now studying for their European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL), it was only a matter of time before students signed up, too. And at one school on the Isle of Wight they have abandoned GCSE IT altogether in favour of the ECDL.

You're never too young to learn how to drive - if it's a computer you're driving, that is. With one million people in the UK now studying for their European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL), it was only a matter of time before students signed up, too. And at one school on the Isle of Wight they have abandoned GCSE IT altogether in favour of the ECDL.

This week the IT training and development company Aston Swann officially launched its ECDL for Students course-ware at the BETT educational technology show at Olympia. It is plugging the package as a rival to GCSE IT, which it believes could soon be a thing of the past.

The ECDL, which is now available in 137 countries, was introduced to the UK six years ago by the British Computer Society. The qualification enables people to learn the basics of computing, from creating word processing documents to sending e-mails. Aston Swann promises that its Students' Courseware will equip teenagers with "the essential competency in technology needed to get the most out of their education and subsequent employment".

Students aged 14 to 19 complete the course through the use of CD-Roms and books, learning how to use a spreadsheet for science experiments or search the internet for homework resources. Aston Swann's director Andrew Hilbert says the course material was developed following requests from teachers who were already using the company's ECDL for Educators package. "Teachers said it was great but what they wanted were exercises for students, so we developed pupil projects," he says. While the course material was not originally designed to be an alternative to GCSE, three things made this change.

The first was that the ECDL as a qualification has grown in popularity faster than people expected. The second was the Tomlinson report, which stressed that employers want people who are better equipped for the workplace. Computer literacy, says Hilbert, is now as fundamental as knowing how to read and write. Then there's the fact that schools "have more freedom" to put new courses into the curriculum, which means they can substitute the GCSE with the ECDL.

But teachers don't just want CDs, says Hilbert; they want course materials that are book-based. "Plenty of providers give you a disk, but what do you do with it in the classroom, just hand it out? What was needed was course-ware written for students." Until now, he says, the CDs on offer were the same ones used for people who worker, for example, in banking.

The BETT launch coincides with the accreditation of the Students' Courseware by the ECDL Foundation. In addition, Aston Swann and its course materials are accredited by the Government initiative Curriculum On-Line, which enables schools to use "e-learning credits" to purchase the teaching package.

The student course has been piloted at Cowes High School in the Isle of Wight, and its ICT co-coordinator, Russell Dale, is impressed. He claims that because the course is purely skills based, students become a lot more computer-literate than on the GCSE programme.

The introduction of the ECDL was the brainchild of the school's new headteacher. He wanted a more vocational curriculum and decided to cut out GSCE and Key Stage 3 IT. As a result, the school needed something to replace them. "The head's view is that IT should be a tool across the curriculum, not a subject in its own right," says Dale. Last September the school "jumped in with both feet first" and piloted the course with all its Year 9 and Year 10 students. As a seven-module course, the ECDL takes three years to complete. There is very little coursework, and the school has adapted the programme to add its own extended projects. But taking the course doesn't necessarily mean students will end up with the ECDL qualification. Dale says there will be mock tests at the end of each unit, and if students pass these then they progress to the unit test.

Some IT teachers still fear that industry doesn't take the ECDL that seriously, and that it's not as in-depth as the GCSE. Dale admits there were some concerns about whether post-16 students taking IT courses would have the necessary experience. But he says in practice the course exceeded expectations. "The students love it. They are motivated, they are learning loads of skills and they are turned on by it."

Comments