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Education Secretary To Overhaul ICT Curriculum

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Michael Gove says current system of ICT teaching is harmful to the UK economy

Education secretary Michael Gove is to announce that the current ICT curriculum will be scrapped in September this year, to be replaced by compulsory lessons in computer science and programming.

The current programme of study has been labelled by Gove as “harmful and dull” and will begin a consultation next week designed to formulate a new computing curriculum.

Harmful to economy

Gove said that he wanted to create people “able to work at the forefront of technological change” and that resources developed by experts were already available online to help schools teach computer science. He added that the current curriculum is damaging the UK’s economic prospects.

He also wants universities and business to help devise new courses and exams, in particular a new computing GCSE, which has seen a reduction in the number of the students taking the test. It has been suggested that under the new plans, 16 year olds could be making their own smartphone apps while 18 year olds would be able to write their own simple programming language.

“Imagine the dramatic change which could be possible in just a few years, once we remove the roadblock of the existing ICT curriculum,” Gove will say.” Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word or Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations,”

In need of reform

The government has already acknowledged that the current method of teaching ICT in schools is insufficiently rigorous and in need of reform. In November, it promised to introduce more relevant IT skills into the classroom with its NextGen proposal.

Education watchdog Ofsted has also been critical of ICT education. In December it published a report which concluded that it was failing pupils in English and Welsh schools, labelling teaching ‘inadequate’ and in need of reform.

A number of big names in the British technology industry, including Microsoft, Sony and Google, have also voiced their concerns and accused the government of turning the ICT curriculum into one that was narrow and superficial.

Google chairman Eric Schmidt has accused it of failing to ignite young people’s passion for technology and added that ICT should be made a compulsory subject at GCSE level, with more being down to support computer science students at college.

Move welcomed by the industry

the move has been welcomed by the industry, including professional body BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT. “BCS is extremely pleased that Michael Gove has publically endorsed the importance of teaching computer science in schools,” said Bill Mitchell, Director BCS Academy of Computing. “His new proposals, particularly the suggestion that if a new rigorous GCSE in computer science is developed it might be included in the EBacc [English Baccalaureat] are also a significant first step towards enabling schools to teach computer science.

“Good schools will now be free to teach the underpinning principles and concepts of computer science through imaginative and rigorous curricula such as the Computing At School (CAS) curriculum, which is endorsed by both Microsoft and Google.”

However, Mitchell warned that there would be tough times because there are only a handful of teachers with computer science qualifications: “There are major challenges ahead not least because there is a shortage of both intellectually challenging GCSE qualifications and teachers with expert computer science knowledge. However, together with CAS and collaborating with groups like Next Gen, our experience and resources mean that we are ideally placed to provide teachers with what they need to teach both digital skills and computer science.”

The Institute together with input from Microsoft, Google and Cambridge University Computer Science department, has created a computing curriculum.