Gove at BETT: ICT and Computer Science

I have had a long personal involvement with ICT in schools. Married to a primary school teacher who has been an ICT co-ordinator most of her career I spent eighteen months in the earlier part of my own career teaching teachers on how to use the then new Internet and helped them to write some of the first school websites in the UK. I have lost track of how many school networks, websites etc I have helped to set up and run.

I even co-authored a book on this: Using the Internet in Secondary Schools.

Working in IT in Higher Education I found what Gove had to say today at BETT interesting. It is no secret that Gove is hardly an IT expert so he has clearly been listening to others such as Google and the British Computer Society. This is no bad thing and there is much in what he has said that I would welcome.

I agree that ICT is not always the most thrilling of subjects in school and that these days learning how to use Word and Excel isn't exactly cutting edge. However is is important to remember that this hasn't always been the case and the mass basic ICT literacy that we now see in children did not used to be there and school children did need lessons in Word!

On the topic of programming I would also agree that this is something that could be made more of in schools and I welcome the proposal to add computer science as a discipline to the school curriculum.
I don't think computer programming is for everyone though and am not quite sure about the way that the DfE Press Office has talked today about "scrapping" ICT and replacing it with Computer Science. You really need both and I would prefer to see talk of re-vamping ICT and introducing computer science.

I also hope talk about concentrating on training teachers rather than buying technology is not an excuse of inadequate investment in hardware and software that is needed to deliver not only the technology curriculum but other subjects too. But if he is serious about investing in people this is a good thing.

Sometimes listening to Gove you get the distinct impression he would like to turn education back to the 1950s but it is good to see him recognise the importance of technology and talk about how it is transforming education.

But the biggest question is how this will be achieved. To teach Computer Science needs different skills to the current ICT curriculum and it is clear that in general schools simply do not have staff with the right skills to do this. And attracting these skilled staff might not be easy as Gove himself recognises they are in scarce supply and they can perhaps earn more in the private sector.

Actually I don't think the real problem will come down to salaries. The sort of staff needed are both skilled and creative and I fear some may think twice about a career in teaching. I expect the lack of opportunity for individual creativity might be an issue for many and Google for example isn't exactly known for its culture of no notice inspections and dress codes for staff...
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