Opinion: IT users’ feedback on education must be acknowledged

By Joanna Poplawska
07 May 2013 View Comments

Since BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, first published an initial draft of the Computing programme of study six months ago, there has been much discussion about what a new ICT curriculum should look like.

Two weeks ago, the Department for Education's consultation on the proposed curriculum closed and interested parties must now wait for the outcome. However, unless the views of the IT user community are acknowledged the discussion is by no means over.

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Our members, who are a group of 28 IT leaders from a variety of organisations including E-On and McDonald's, feel strongly that within a new programme of study there must be a balance of skills.

It is not just about technical skills - but how these skills can be executed in a business context, when approaching team work, in communication, when analysing problems and more.

However, the proposed curriculum seems very programming/computer science focused. As representatives of IT users, we believe that information technology - the study, design, development, application, implementation, support or management of computer-based information systems - is critical for British industry and should be given equal emphasis to the more technically-focused programming and the ability for people to use computers.

Traditionally, real IT is broken into two areas: IT development (programming) and IT operations.

We believe that the proposed curriculum is too focused on the development side of computing, despite employers stating that there is significant need for future employees to have operational skills as well.

In particular, there is a lack of application to real life examples of IT. Real world examples and first hand exposure are extremely important to foster the right level of interest in computing.

Also, security and testing are missing from the programme of study. Pupils should be introduced to concepts including information and IT security, basic risk analysis, basic testing strategies and bugs, and taught to understand the threat of cyber crime and the typical measures taken to design security solutions and also measures taken to counter against cyber attacks.

Beyond deciding "what to teach", government must also recognise the importance of "how to teach". While we welcome the news that government has awarded BCS £2m to train 400 master teachers to ensure the new curriculum is delivered, we are still concerned that those teachers who are technologically averse will not employ technology in an exciting and stimulating way. We are also calling for the inclusion of Computing across all subject teaching so that it is not just restricted to the Computing programme of study.

From a business perspective, our members are interested in a real transformation of teaching and that covers all areas of education. To reiterate, at all stages the subject should be taught with reference to relevant, real world and exciting examples from social, business and creative contexts so as to promote pupil interest and excitement.

It was also disappointing to see that the DfE's guidance for the drafting of a new programme of study, which covers 10 years of education, limited the length to two A4 pages. We are not sure of the full impact this has had on the content of the new curriculum but we do believe there are important elements missing.

In particular, we were shocked that the proposed curriculum does not outline any areas of study for Computing at key stage 4. Given the major part the old ICT GCSE played in shaping young people's views of IT-related degrees and careers, as highlighted by eSkills' UK IT & Telecoms Insight Report, it is critical that this is rectified.

We recognise that we're recommending great change and without adequate funding and support it cannot happen.

This is why we're calling for faster and more drastic action and investment from government than is currently planned. Unless immediate action is taken The Commission believes that whole swathes of the current generation of schoolchildren will simply not be IT literate enough to function in an increasingly digital world.

Joanna Poplawska is co-founder of The Corporate IT Forum's Education & Skills Commission 

Watch Poplawska and other industry experts further discuss the industry requirements of the revamped ICT curriculum in Computing's video roundtable.

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