Off-putting, demotivating, dull. The Education Secretary's stinging assessment of IT teaching in Britain's schools is, sadly, no exaggeration. It is not simply that lessons are boring; they are fundamentally missing the point. Modern IT skills are not about how to use Word or Excel; they are about building the next world-beating phone app, programming the graphics for Pixar, or developing a search algorithm to rival Google. That the explosive creative potential of computers is not reflected in our classrooms is both an educational opportunity appallingly missed and a threat to economic competitiveness.
It is to his credit, then, that Michael Gove has grasped the extent of the problem. His remedy is to free schools from the outdated government-mandated computer science curriculum. Instead, teachers will be able to set their own agendas, given extra training to beef up their own technical skills, and encouraged to work with industry and business to develop a new computer science GCSE that reflects the breadth and rigour of the subject.
Not a moment too soon. From the early pioneers such as Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing, to the once-ubiquitous BBC Microcomputer that helped inspire a generation of programmers, Britain has always been at the forefront of computer technology. Alas, no longer. Our video games industry is sliding down the global rankings, our only FTSE 100 software company was recently taken over by a US rival, and none of the world-changing IT companies of recent years – Facebook, Google or Microsoft, to name but three – has been British.
There is much that can be done, and Mr Gove has made a reasonable start. That said, it will take more than one barn-storming speech to unleash the forces of creativity. It is not yet clear what support will be offered to teachers, for example. And although there are vast resources on the internet, and there is inexpensive IT hardware designed to support computer science teaching, there will still be costs. The Government will need to fill in such blanks before the next academic year. But, at the most basic level, Mr Gove is right. Our children should be building applications, not just downloading them.
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