Education Quandary: Most computing jobs now go to foreign graduates. Why do our schools do such a bad job of encouraging pupils in this crucial area?

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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

I checked out what you say and you are right. Although the demand for IT professionals keeps rising, the number of British students taking up computer science at universities has dropped by an astonishing 60 per cent since 2000.

Why? Well those in the field say it is because what schools teach is so narrow and boring. Most schools are still concentrating on teaching things like word processing, spreadsheets and putting together PowerPoint presentations, all of which are a big turn-off for today's technology-savvy kids, so the numbers going on from GCSE to A level have plummeted.

What can be done? Schools should, say the experts, be teaching pupils much more about hardware, how to develop databases, how to set up websites and the technical aspects of multimedia. Interestingly, some teachers say they are finding that the new Diploma in Information Technology is giving pupils a better chance to get a rigorous qualification with a lot of hands-on learning. Teachers should also be enthusing pupils about how computers underpin every aspect of modern society and making sure they understand the full array of degree options available at university – from game design to cybernetics.

One problem, of course, as so often in education, is a shortage of good teachers, and some people believe that the new money that is now going into encouraging pupils to study science or technology at university would be better spent on developing computer science in schools. There also needs to be much better support and training for existing ICT teachers.

Readers' advice

My boys are computer mad. When their father talks to them about things like how the sat nav works they are fascinated. But they are at two different schools and both say they hate their IT lessons. It seems a criminal waste that their desire to learn more in this area is not built on in the classroom.

Sheila Giles, London SW21

It may well be that people from abroad have greater skills in the workplace, but I do not believe that our young people cannot do the same if they are interested in ICT and are given the training in the workplace or university to be competent. The first year of secondary school is not the place to judge who will want to work in a job with a high ICT content and I do not agree that high competency in ICT is vital to everyone – do barristers and doctors need this?

Belinda Brackley, Bucks

Things have gone backwards. Years ago you could go into primary schools and see children programming "turtles" to move around the floor to their instructions. Now you only see children typing at screens. I think we need to excite children about what computers are capable of, and about what they can do in computing, so that later on they will be willing to tackle the hard maths that they will need to go into this field. This should start in primary schools, and schools should call in experts from industry to help them.

Andrew Dunham, Surrey

Next Week's Quandary

My brother, who teaches at a state comprehensive, says he is going to have to switch exam boards from his preferred option to an "easier" one in order to get better results. Why do we have so many different exam boards? Wouldn't it be fairer if all students sat the same exam?

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