Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove’s plan to replace the compulsory, Office-oriented ICT curriculum with a voluntary one more focused on programming and computer science has been welcomed by many in the sector. They believe it is a sign that the government at long last recognises the importance of IT skills to the UK economy. However, some experts fear the proposed changes will fail to meet employers’ recruitment needs and may even lead to ICT becoming a niche subject because of a shortage of suitable teachers.
Someone who supports the general thrust of Gove’s reforms, but recognises the potential pitfalls, is Eben Upton, who, as well as working as technical director at semiconductor firm Broadcom, founded the Raspberry Pi Foundation to develop and market a $25 microcomputer for education.
“If you don’t have people learning to programme when they’re kids, you don’t have such a large supply of potential recruits into computer science courses, and you don’t have such a large supply of graduates,” he said.
“It’s much easier to be a good, natural, intuitive computer programmer if you’ve been doing it since you were eight. Like it’s much easier to be a good piano player in the same way.”
Upton believes the change in emphasis away from learning to use software packages like Office to developing programming skills will benefit UK plc.
“What generates money in our economy?” he asked. “Engineering and financial services. And both of those disciplines are things that reward the coder’s way of thinking; the engineering mindset.”
However, critics of Gove’s proposals argue that they fail to address industry’s biggest IT recruitment headache: a lack of candidates with any real understanding of how the business world ticks.
“Many degree programmes and IT certification schemes are turning out people who have deep technical skills but no business acumen,” said Brian Beneda, who manages HP’s academic programmes.
“The inability to translate an organisation’s business objectives into a technical strategy that can then be deployed has hamstrung countless would-be IT professionals, as well as undermining IT’s credibility within the enterprise.
“It’s great to have real expertise in, say storage, but it’s not enough. Particularly with the advent of cloud computing, the business is looking for people that see the whole picture.”