Michael Gove has described ICT education in the UK in recent years as "about as much use as teaching children to send a telex or travel in a zeppelin", in his keynote at the opening of the BETT IT education conference yesterday.
Describing a system that focused "purely on computer literacy - teaching pupils, over and over again, how to word process, how to work a spreadsheet" and programs "already creaking into obsolescence", Gove said the government's new curriculum, due to come into play in September 2014, will fix these shortcomings.
Children will now learn coding from five years old, will know "at least two" programming languages by 11 and will become familiar with "computational abstractions that model the state and behaviour of real-world problems and physical systems", said Gove, highlighting some of his policy decisions over the last couple of years.
"These are precisely the sort of skills which the jobs of the future - and, for that matter, the jobs of the present - demand. From now on, our reforms will ensure that every child gets a solid grounding in these essential skills - giving them the best possible start to their future," said Gove.
Gove also said that government regulation "cannot keep pace with the scale of change technology brings", and said it was thus "determined to give schools and teachers the freedom and autonomy to keep their eyes open for the next opportunity... and react to it when the time comes."
Speaking to Computing after Gove's keynote, headteacher of Sudbury Primary School in Middlesex, Uma Pandya, refuted Gove's claims that educational autonomy was the government's to give.
"He hasn't given us autonomy. We had it before," Pandya told Computing, reflecting on 18 years as a headteacher.
"He'd say he has because he's a politician. We're a political football - we get kicked left, right and centre and I resent that, and I'd say that to his face.
"I have no qualms about it. He hasn't given us autonomy, but he'll take the credit for it. More autonomy is fine, but as heads, those of us who've been in the game for a long time just take what we think will work, and keep our sanity."
The school, which has enjoyed a good relationship with wireless network hardware company Xirrus since 2009, has spent £30,000 on wireless infrastructure solutions to enable children to begin using fast and reliable online educational resources, as well as freeing up what used to be its IT support staff to take part in the teaching process, including running Scratch classes for five year olds.
By taking IT education into its own hands, Pandya says Sudbury Primary is "not daunted anymore".
"We've moved away from IT rooms, and we have a variety of systems like tablets, notebooks, laptops and whatever. So my challenge was [to provide children with] a variety of IT experiences," said Pandya.
Miles Berry, ex-chairman of national learning technology association NAACE and subject leader for computing education at the University of Roehampton, also warned that Gove should not place too much emphasis on technology in schools when practice still needs a lot of work.
"There's a tension there between the amount of innovation that's teacher-led, and that supported by the industry," Berry told Computing. "There have been times in the past that that particular tail has wagged the dog, and I hope we will avoid that this time.
"Yes, let's have great resources on which teachers can rely, but let's not lose sight of the creativity and innovation you can find when teachers have the time and resources to work on them themselves."
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