20 Mar 2012
John Carter uses the oft-quoted George Bernard Shaw to place himself firmly above teachers in the field of IT (Why ICT gurus don’t teach). “Skilled IT professionals”, he informs us, earn more than teachers and from this we are invited to join him in inferring that he is in IT because he “can” and those who are in teaching are there because presumably they “can not”.
Well, this rapier wit and piercing logic suggests he has yet to pass a trade qualification in philosophy but nonetheless, there is a story to tell.
The office software-based courses that have come to dominate IT teaching in schools are pretty much a direct result of a cynical target-setting culture that more or less guarantees students cross the 5 GCSEs at C+ threshold – with the student invariably bored witless in the process. The various Computer Science GCSEs that state schools were able to use withered on the vine and were withdrawn by the exam boards. As a consequence of all this, we are seeing applications for degree-level courses in Computer Science falling dramatically, and industry is now looking to schools to help fix the problem.
The Education Secretary’s proposals to overhaul ICT education are certainly welcome, and the Computing At School Working group is an important part of the effort to get something considerably more valuable into the school curriculum. I am a very small part of that group and since none of us gets a bean for our contribution I assume that Mr Carter would not be interested in helping out. Many people from the IT Industry are in the group, however, and some may even earn salaries approaching the princely sum that Mr Carter no doubt rakes in every month with his impressive skills. Their contribution is valued and we have lively and polite debates.
Contrary to Mr Carter’s view, teachers are often highly skilled but their key skills in IT are likely, at best, to be only in one or two areas from the dozens, if not hundreds of skill sets that exist in industry. However, by changing the content of the IT curriculum to include much more experience of computational thinking and other engaging areas of digital literacy we can remove the tedium of office-based studies that may have driven a generation of youngsters away from IT careers.
Meanwhile, the industry has a responsibility to provide a clear and comprehensive set of career paths and funded training for both graduates and non graduates. In medicine, hospitals do not expect graduates in Medical Science to be immediately useful on the ward, hence the years of clinical training, the endless professional exams and the training posts before they become consultants. A similar story can be told for law and for other professions.
As for Mr Carter, our “skilled professional” who can “do”, I have a challenge. In the next year he can do two courses I have successfully completed in my career and I will do two from his. At the end of the year he can teach for a term and I will do his job for the same period. We can then see what our respective HR departments think of our efforts.
Brian Lockwood, educator and volunteer for Computing at School