Vaizey calls for UK computer science revolution

Vaizey calls for UK computer science revolution

Speaking on BBC Two current affairs programme Newsnight, the UK's minister for culture, communications and creative industries Ed Vaizey tonight called for a revolution in computer science education akin to that which occured in the '80s.

When questioned over the UK's drop from third to sixth place in global development rankings and the fact that only 19 per cent of the nation's teachers are qualified to teach computer science, Vaizey called on UK businesses to help back that revolution.

"We need another BBC Micro and we need businesses to get behind a revolutionary computer science," he said, later mentioning Rasperry Pi, the cheap computer David Braben helped to design. "ICT [Information and Communications Technology] is part of the curriculum, but the problem is ICT is taught badly in schools – that's no disrespect to teachers, but students are taught how to use computer programs, not how to program.

"I don't think you can turn this around over night, but what we can do is to get companies like Google and Facebook to get into schools and start teaching."

Industry veteran Ian Livingstone, co-author of the Livingstone-Hope Next Gen review, questioned UK secretary of state for education Michael Gove's educational reforms during a report aired ahead of Vaizey's interview, saying: "Learning about Powerpoint, Word and Excel is useful but boring. You need to put creative technology into the hands of children. [Gove] doesn't appear to want to change his curiculum as it stands, but he can't operate without computer sciences, and neither can this country."

In response, Ed Vaizey pointed to Gove's reforms as a solution to the nations currently "squeezed" curriculum and lack of qualified teachers in the sector.

"The paradox is that the reforms Michael Gove wants to do are actually to free up the curriculum," he said. "He wants a core curriculum of core subjects with a breadth of skills that are useful to everyone going through life, and then give schools the flexibility to put in additional subjects – that could include computer science." 

Going on to highlight the 20 schools currently piloting a new computer science curriculum trial, dubbed "Behind the Screen" and led by technology skills body e-Skills in collaboration with its partners (which include Microsoft, Google and IBM), Vaizey again stressed the importance of working with businesses in order to more quickly usher in stronger computer science education.

"We've got a lot of people doing computer science and are very skilled, but the issue is that there is a recognition that ICT has been allowed to stultify and become effectively 'office services'. We need another revolution, like the one started outside of government in the early 80s but this time working with the government."

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