If a child can pass computer studies, then surely I can too?

Charles Arthur, Technology Editor, sits the GCSE exam passed by two six-year-olds
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The Independent Online

I never sat an IT exam as such; my first programming was more than 20 years ago, when computers were novelties. I survived two years of computer consultancy, a certificate in Systems Analysis from the National Computing Centre and 15 years watching the gyrations of the IT industry.

I never sat an IT exam as such; my first programming was more than 20 years ago, when computers were novelties. I survived two years of computer consultancy, a certificate in Systems Analysis from the National Computing Centre and 15 years watching the gyrations of the IT industry.

But on seeing these questions, I blanched. Most of themseemed to treat humans as rather expendable items. When I wrote a set of sample answers and sent them to Ryde College, where six-year-olds Elissa Patel and Rajaei Sharma passed their exams, the teachers refused to mark them. "You're rather cynical, and your answers show a lot of world knowledge," said Michael Ryde, the college head. "I wouldn't feel comfortable allotting marks." Why ever not?

The questions included:

1) A library is considering changing its computerised system. The initial investigation has taken place and data about the old system has been collected. Describe the steps taken in the analysis and design of the new system.

2) A computer model of a bridge has been designed. Describe the stages of implementing and evaluating the computer model.

3)(i) Describe the disadvantages of using electronic mail with regard to security of data. (ii) Describe what measures can be taken to overcome these security problems.

I don't think I would have done too well. I suggested the library system be tested on potential users, aka victims, and their views sought before its implementation - whereas the specimen answers used by the examiners to mark papers say, "Do not accept: staff opinions, observation of current system, questionnaires".

I reckoned the bridge design (somehow, the gloriously erroneous computer-designed Millennium Bridge came to mind) would involve: "Design, test, swear at the incompetence of the designer, alter, retest." Apparently, it should also have included "write the user documentation". For a bridge?

As for e-mail, I overlooked the threat from incoming e-mail - and so missed marks.

What these questions imply, though, is that one day everyone will be a system analyst - that is, the sort of person who looks at a computer system and immediately starts suggesting "improvements", even if it is working perfectly.

The idea of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" does not exist in the field of IT. But nor, one worries, do humans.

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