In September 2014, the new schools curriculum brought in computing as a required subject. Children, from as young as the age of five, are beginning to explore, investigate and learn computer science concepts and skills such as writing code. Whatever you feel about the curriculum changes in general, it can’t be a bad thing to develop vital computer skills and understanding in all our children. Young people need to be properly equipped for the workplace – and may now have a better chance to become the whizz-kids of future technological development.
As Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said in January, ‘A significant number of jobs will be in the tech industry,’ and schools should be better connected to technology firms. As part of her drive, she announced that some of the technology giants, including Google and O2, will support her £3.6m initiative to teach computing skills in primary schools in England. Experts from the firms will help with training and providing resources to teach digital skills in the classroom.
Among the projects planned as part of the initiative, a university consortium including Queen Mary University, London and Hertford College, Oxford, will work with Google to produce training materials for teachers. Meanwhile, O2 Telefonica is to support a peer-to-peer training scheme to help teachers with the computing curriculum, and Oxford Brookes University is to develop an online training course – a so-called ‘massive open online course’ (Mooc) – for primary school teachers.
It is a fact of life for education today that it seems to require support from the private sector to keep it going. If one accepts that and moves on, it is great news that these tie-ups with big technology companies are coming into play, because they will undoubtedly improve provision by keeping teachers and resources up to date with the real world of technology and its rapid progress.
Teaching before the training
However, the cart was put before the horse when the computing curriculum was introduced so quickly. The subject was brought into schools where many teachers were never taught computing themselves and where the majority have not been trained to teach it. Unlike the children they are setting out to teach, they are not ‘digital natives’, they are ‘digital immigrants’.
A recent survey carried out jointly by CAS and Microsoft showed that 68 per cent of primary and secondary teachers are concerned that their pupils have a better understanding of computing than they do. While a majority of teachers responsible for teaching computing feel confident in delivering the new subject, many still lack skills and knowledge in key areas. Eight out of ten teachers are asking for more training, development and learning materials to deliver the subject effectively. Hence the big fanfare around the new training provision, in a bit of a scrabble to cover up this rather yawning gap. Good luck to the teachers who feel they are on the back foot. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when pupils know more than their teachers, but those teachers need a good grounding in the subject before they can encourage their pupils to take wing and fly.