Computing

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The Independent Online

What is it? The study of the use of computers, computer-based problems and applications throughout society. This is real nitty-gritty stuff and is not for people who just want new cheat codes for games like Metal Gear Solid.

What is it? The study of the use of computers, computer-based problems and applications throughout society. This is real nitty-gritty stuff and is not for people who just want new cheat codes for games like Metal Gear Solid.

Why do it? Because there is an increasing need for an understanding of technology in our computer-dominated society, and your life and career opportunities would benefit.

What skills do you need? Surprisingly, very little prior knowledge of computing, but you do need a logical and systematic approach, an interest in solving problems, and a natural curiosity. If you are mathematically minded, you would probably find it particularly appealing, but it is a subject that you could start with a clean sheet.

How much practical work is there? A lot of problem-busting stuff. You might find yourself developing a computer program for routeing buses around a city centre. Or making a program to run a complicated office rota.

Ratio of coursework to exams: Between one third and 40 per cent, depending on the exam board.

Is it hard? Yes. Being interested in the subject makes it a lot easier and so does a logical mind.

Is it enjoyable? Yes, because you get to pick projects that interest you. For example, you could design a computer program to run the lighting system at a disco.

Who takes it? More boys than girls but that is changing, probably because ICT is compulsory lower down the national curriculum and students realise how important it is to be computer literate. It attracts more mathematicians and scientists than arts-biased students.

How cool is it? Getting cooler all the time, particularly the hip web- design and virtual reality side. And of course, Keanu Reeves as the leather- clad computer buff in The Matrix brought a new depth of coolness to being an IT specialist.

Added value: Being in huge demand at home, at school or in the office because you know how to end a computer nightmare for someone who is stumped.

What subjects go with it? Anything really. It is a very good additional A-level.

What degrees does it lead to? A huge range of computer-based degree courses, as well as subjects like engineering.

Will it set you up for a brilliant career? If you get a job designing one of the new super-computers, you can virtually write your own pay cheque. The less starry are in high demand too because there is such a shortage of well-qualified computer experts.

What do students say? "I'm finding it very interesting. It's good that we get the chance to try out computer models. I think that it is going to be very useful." (Moya Lucas, 16, doing OCR computing at Our Lady's Catholic High School, Lancaster.)

Which awarding bodies offer it? OCR, Edexcel and AQA.

How widely available is it? It is available in most schools and colleges around the country.

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