UK education secretary Michael Gove has today announced that the coalition government is to scrap the current ICT (information and communications technology) component in the national curriculum from September, a move which will see computer science return to the nation's classrooms.
In a speech at the Bett educational technology conference in London this morning, Gove said ICT, which teaches the use of existing software packages rather than the creation of new ones, had left UK students "bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers.
"Imagine the dramatic change which could be possible in just a few years, once we remove the roadblock of the existing ICT curriculum," he said. "We could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch. By 16, they could have an understanding of formal logic previously covered only in university courses and be writing their own apps for smartphones.
"Our school system has not prepared children for this new world. Millions have left school over the past decade without even the basics they need for a decent job. And the current curriculum cannot prepare British students to work at the very forefront of technological change."
The Guardian reports that Gove's new vision for the study of computing in the UK is an "open source" curriculum, with schools given freedom to use resources put together with input from technology employers and academics. That, Gove said, will mean changes can be implemented more quickly than if government had opted to rewrite the curriculum itself.
He said: "The traditional approach would have been to keep the programme of study in place for the next four years while we assembled a panel of experts, wrote a new ICT curriculum, spent a fortune on new teacher training, and engaged with exam boards for new ICT GCSEs that would become obsolete almost immediately. We will not be doing that.
"Technology in schools will no longer be micromanaged by Whitehall. By withdrawing the programme of study, we're giving schools and teachers freedom over what and how to teach; revolutionising ICT as we know it."
It's long-overdue vindication for Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope, co-authors of the Next-Gen skills review. Published last February, the report made 20 recommendations to government on how better to prepare UK students for careers in the digital and creative industries. One of the principal recommendations was that computer science replace ICT.
Ed Vaizey, minister for culture, communications and the creative industries, had already thrown his weight behind change when prime minister David Cameron admitted that the ICT curriculum was "not doing enough to actually teach the next generation of programmers."
It should, however, be noted that ICT is still a compulsory part of the national curriculum, at least for now; government's review of the entire national curriculum is ongoing, with a report due next year. Leaving the door open for schools to devise their own programmes of study means that they will be free to retain a traditional ICT component alongside computer science.
Last month, the government's response to the Livingstone-Hope review said it was "looking at the supply of high-quality computer science teaching," an admission that computer science teachers will cost more than existing ICT teachers. With budgets being squeezed as part of the government's ongoing austerity drive, and schools given freedom to compose their own ICT programmes, does Gove's plan go far enough?
Source: The Guardian