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Gove bemoans UK technology education at BETT

Gove bemoans UK technology education at BETT

Speaking at BETT, Gove attacked 'bored teachers' droning on about Word and Excel.

Education secretary Michael Gove has declared dissatisfaction with the treatment of computing education in the UK - with ICT often denigrated as 'I Can Type' - in a speech at the educational BETT Show in London this week.

Describing the numerous technological advances of the last few decades, Gove accused education of standing still. 'A Victorian schoolteacher could enter a 21st century classroom and feel completely at home,' he told attendees at the event. 'Whiteboards may have eliminated chalk dust, chairs may have migrated from rows to groups, but a teacher still stands in front of the class, talking, testing and questioning.'

Claiming that such teaching methodology could 'extinct' in ten years, Gove name-dropped such luminaries as computing pioneer Alan Turing, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Google chair Eric Schmidt while stating that 'we in England have allowed our education system to ignore our great heritage, and we are paying the price for it.

'One area exemplifies, more than any other, the perils of the centre seeking to capture in leaden prose the restless spirit of technological innovation. I refer, of course, to the current ICT curriculum,' Gove continued.

'The best degrees in computer science are among the most rigorous and respected qualifications in the world. They’re based on one of the most formidable intellectual fields – logic and set theory – and prepare students for immensely rewarding careers and world-changing innovations.

'But you’d never know that from the current ICT curriculum.'

To address this issue, Gove claimed that - while the teaching of what is currently known as Information and Communications Technology (ICT) will remain compulsory at all key stages - universities, business and others will be given the opportunity to develop new courses and exams, a move which has been lobbied for by groups such as Computing At School (CAS) for some years.

'Imagine the dramatic change which could be possible in just a few years, once we remove the roadblock of the existing ICT curriculum: instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11 year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch,' Gove enthused. 'By 16, they could have an understanding of formal logic previously covered only in University courses and be writing their own Apps for smartphones.

'This is not an airy promise from an MP – this is the prediction of people like Ian Livingstone who have built world-class companies from computer science.
'

Despite being somewhat loose on firm commitments, Gove's speech has been welcomed by many in the industry. Tim Dobson, education spokesperson for the technologically adept Pirate Party UK political group, described the move as 'a great step forward for young people and technology.

'As someone who now works in the technology sector but who suffered from poor ICT tuition at school, I hope that the government is able to deliver on these proposals; it is something that students in the UK deserve, that the economy of the UK will benefit from and something that has been ignored for too long
,' Dobson added. 'I have been campaigning for changes like these since 2009, they are very welcome and I am keen to see how they are implemented and developed.'

Gove's plans will find plenty of support in the industry: attendees at the invite-only Educating Programmers summit at Bletchley Park in August last year recommended many of the same changes, with Microsoft's Simon Peyton-Jones stating outright: 'Microsoft is four-square: don't teach Office in schools.'

Are you pleased to see the government taking computing education seriously, or could it be too late for the UK to recover what was once a world-leading position in the technology race? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

27 Comments

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scott_chegg 12th January 2012, 10:10 Quote
I did a bit of networking work in a lot of secondary schools about 4 years ago. The thing that shocked me was the teachers used ICT lessons as a bit of downtime for themselves as the kids were able to keep themselves entertained by playing flash games on the internet.

When I first saw this going on I put it down to a one off incident and thought nothing more but repeatedly seeing it happen over a couple of years was so upsetting.

My 2 boys will be being taught ICT by me when they hit secondary school age.
Marvin-HHGTTG 12th January 2012, 10:11 Quote
I think it'll be interesting to see how they'll find enough decent quality computing teachers, especially with no additional budget over current courses. Otherwise it may well be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted - it's a little late in the day to be thinking about this when many developers have already jumped ship. Hopefully this can keep what we have going, and rekindle more interest in UK development.

On the other hand, for those not interested in it, computer science can be very dry (even for those who are interested in it), unintelligable and dull, which is hardly an improvement (then again so is RS, English, History, Geography (in my opinion, based on my experience of schools teaching said subjects) but those are still in the curriculum).
steveo_mcg 12th January 2012, 10:32 Quote
When I was at school we had business studies which was basically how to type (pre office) and we had Computer Science most of which was taught on the BBC.

I believe this is a good model although basic computer use is so important these days it would probably be better to integrate it into other subjects as using a computer is not a really a separate skill any more. When I say basic I mean an office suite and searching.


/Ramblings of an old man
Gareth Halfacree 12th January 2012, 10:49 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by scott_chegg
My 2 boys will be being taught ICT by me when they hit secondary school age.
Why wait until then? I started on microcomputers at a young age, thanks largely to the high-level languages on offer like Forth and BASIC.

One of the most impressive educational projects I've come across recently is FIGnition, a home-brew microcomputer kit: buy the kit, solder it together, and you've got a fully-operational microcomputer running FIG-Forth.

They're only £20 direct from the inventor, and they're bloody good fun. That said, the keyboard - which operates on 'chording' principles, requiring you to hold down multiple keys - is pretty dire, but you can write up programs on the PC and transfer 'em directly to the FIGnition over USB.

It's a good way to get kids interested in computing; rather than a modern system, which abstracts all the complexity away, it gives them a hands-on experience of building and programming an Acorn Atom-style microcomputer.
lacuna 12th January 2012, 10:57 Quote
On the contrary I think current education is far too computer-centric and core skills are being neglected. Over reliance upon computers is having a detrimental effect upon childrens to even write!
Gareth Halfacree 12th January 2012, 11:07 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by lacuna
Over reliance upon computers is having a detrimental effect upon childrens to even write!
Oh, the ironing...
scott_chegg 12th January 2012, 11:51 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Quote:
Originally Posted by scott_chegg
My 2 boys will be being taught ICT by me when they hit secondary school age.
Why wait until then? I started on microcomputers at a young age, thanks largely to the high-level languages on offer like Forth and BASIC.

One of the most impressive educational projects I've come across recently is FIGnition, a home-brew microcomputer kit: buy the kit, solder it together, and you've got a fully-operational microcomputer running FIG-Forth.

They're only £20 direct from the inventor, and they're bloody good fun. That said, the keyboard - which operates on 'chording' principles, requiring you to hold down multiple keys - is pretty dire, but you can write up programs on the PC and transfer 'em directly to the FIGnition over USB.

It's a good way to get kids interested in computing; rather than a modern system, which abstracts all the complexity away, it gives them a hands-on experience of building and programming an Acorn Atom-style microcomputer.

Interesting. I'll have a look into this.

I'm letting the oldest have fun on the PC for the moment. He's only 3 but he's an absolute demon on trackmania and renegade ops! He can easily be put in front of the PC and find his way onto the Ceebeebies games website via a shortcut on the desktop. He's fully grasped the operation of using a touch screen tablet thanks to all the free or very cheap educational apps available on the android market.

The wife isn't best pleased though. She says I'm making a little gamer out of him. I keep saying it's time invested in his ICT education. I'm right.
Silver51 12th January 2012, 12:37 Quote
Urgh, secondary school ICT education is hilarious. By which I mean, a total farce.

We have maths and humanities teachers taking ICT lessons which mostly involve PowerPoint and an old version of Flowol. For their final two years, they have to make 'e-portfolios,'* which is basically a website in Dreamweaver.

Their most complicated task is making sure all their hyperlinks work, which can be hard when your teacher has no formal ICT training.

If I were a kid taking ICT now, I'd be transferring to another subject. Graphics is nice, we have Photoshop CS5 (awesomewin) and a teacher who's taken a Photoshop course.



The only thing I'd like to bring up from the article, is that Scratch was mentioned. I think we looked at that (for a Science department after school club of all things,) but there was something wrong with it. It's been a while now, but IIR it may have used the GTK framework which allows the kids to access the local C: drive under Windows, a big no, no.


* 'e-portfolio,' I don't know who comes up with these names, but I guess it's shorter than 'teal coloured, tables based website from 1998.'
mminghella 12th January 2012, 13:53 Quote
I love the comments here, even though (or because) they are identical to comments posted on every other wbsite. Just because some of you had poor ICT teachers, it doesn't make ICT poor as a subject. I have had poor waitresses, doctors, taxi drivers etc. but don't feel the need to call for their jobs to be scrapped or apply my subjective experiences to the rest of their profession. In my school, we do video editing, sound editing, computer control, Flash animations, graphics, 2D design and the office stuff too. Like it or not, most students have an idea of how to use office software, but try asking them to create an agenda, or a presentation aimed at adults and then aimed at children and you will quickly see the gaps in their knowledge. Being told what I should and shouldn't be teaching to my students by people who don't teach is akin to me giving a brain surgeon advice on the best procedures. By all means, reform the curriculum but after 16+ years of teaching, I can honestly say that I have never been consulted on a single change; maybe speaking to the actual teachers might have helped with a more useful reform.
mminghella 12th January 2012, 14:08 Quote
I am really fed up with the ICT bashing favoured by many people across many different sites and in the media. Just because some of you had poor ICT teachers, it doesn't make ICT poor as a subject. I have had poor waitresses, doctors, taxi drivers etc. but don't feel the need to call for their jobs to be scrapped or apply my subjective experiences to the rest of their profession. In my school, we do video editing, sound editing, computer control, Flash animations, graphics, 2D design and the office stuff too. Like it or not, most students have an idea of how to use office software, but try asking them to create an agenda, or a presentation aimed at adults and then aimed at children and you will quickly see the gaps in their knowledge. Being told what I should and shouldn't be teaching to my students by people who don't teach is akin to me giving a brain surgeon advice on the best procedures. By all means, reform the curriculum but after 16+ years of teaching, I can honestly say that I have never been consulted on a single change; maybe speaking to the actual teachers might have helped with a more useful reform.

I can guarantee that in 10 years, people will bemoan how they were forced to code and create apps in their computer lessons but they have never used those skills again. Instead, they will be asking why they weren't taught how to create a decent CV or plan their finances with a spreadsheet :(

It is all cyclical!
to_fast1 12th January 2012, 14:44 Quote
i left school 9 years ago and even then i used to think why is ict nothing to do with the actual computers its just how to use word, excel and powerpoint. our main project was to come up with a company and make promotional materials and accounts sheets for said company but it didnt even have to use formulas at all and the criteria for the promotional stuff was that it was eye catching so it was about being creative not ict at all. we had teachers who just did ict only but like has been said they seemed bored and used the lesson like a break period.

everything i know about how a computer works and how to put them together has been self taught from the internet (mostly bit-tech) and some books none at all from school.
to_fast1 12th January 2012, 15:11 Quote
i was never taught how to write my cv or plan my finances on a spreadsheet in my lessons. like has been mentioned our teachers didnt seem to care for our actual education about the computer and we did sometimes play games in lessons because we werent actually being taught anything by the teacher who would come in and tell us to get on with what we were working on then they would promptly sit in their office for the rest of the time.
i agree that some schools are a lot better than others when it comes to ict but everyone i have spoken to about thier own ict education has the same point of view that they should have learnt about the actual computer and how to troubleshoot when it goes wrong instead of what they did learn as cv, letter and finance layouts can be learnt or downloaded from the internet and it is quite easy to teach yourself how to type in a search box to find such things.
RichCreedy 12th January 2012, 15:48 Quote
when i was in school, if i wanted to do computer studies, you had to take rsa typing, which, back in the early-mid 80's was seen as a girls only subject
CashMoney 12th January 2012, 16:40 Quote
When I was at school 15 years ago, we had business studies and then also a 15 part IT class teaching DTP, Word Pro etc. Fast forward to today and my kids school teaches Networking, Game design (coding and artistic, using scratch and/or modifying games like the quake 3 engine), HTML (Dreamweaver and code, depending on the childs ability and if they choose to do it) and/or website design, flash, photoshop, building PC's ... on top of all the basics like Word Pro, DTP, Spreadsheets, Powerpoint etc. Writing a CV and learning about taxes or "daily life" is done in Citizenship, a basic lesson I assumed was a country wide thing. Even my sons "workshop" class has became "Systems and Controls"; an amalgamation of workshop, electronics and computing programming.

I know my kids secondary school is more of an exception than the rule (it even calls itself an I.T and Maths College) but all my friends kids in the area that attend other schools get access to similar educations when it comes to computer studies. Maybe we are just lucky down here in the mid-south but I assumed that this was they way things are in schools these days across the country. These are of course choices above the usual basic ICT on how to use a PC, as they should be. No point teaching a student to build a PC if they want to be a lifegaurd or bricklayer. The basics, yes of course; same as we don't teach every child to be a chef, but they are taught to cook various meals, use a microwave, food mixers ... perhaps Jamie Oliver can get on to Gove about that :p
RedFlames 12th January 2012, 16:53 Quote
I remember IT lessons at school...

... me teaching the teachers how to use the school's new PC
mminghella 12th January 2012, 17:12 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by to_fast1

what they did learn as cv, letter and finance layouts can be learnt or downloaded from the internet and it is quite easy to teach yourself how to type in a search box to find such things.

And you can't find out how to troubleshoot or build a PC from the internet?

So, to follow a lot of the logic I have heard from others, science students should be able to heal people, maths students should be off solving our national debt crisis, business studies students should all have their own businesses too; I don't want to think about those who have had any sex education classes :o

It is not our job to churn out programmers or developers, rather we are supposed to turn students into discerning users of ICT. We give them the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in their chosen field, not the field chosen for them by Livingstone or Gove or me.

If students want to go into an area in more depth, then great! They can choose to do that in their own time or at a later date, as many people do.

I'm not against change, but I am against people tarnishing my subject based on their subjective experiences.
trotter94 12th January 2012, 17:30 Quote
@CashMoney IT and ICT are not the same thing, ICT must be taught by secondary schools, whereas IT is optional (for the school not the student) and is usually taught at a higher level (collage). at least thats my understanding.

My thoughts are that the skills taught in ICT are useful but there currently no skills that relate to the computing industry and there needs to be.
You have to learn art for 3 years and that imo is a more specialized subject than computing, my point being that i think theres room for computing on the curriculum to have its own subject separate from ICT.
mminghella 12th January 2012, 17:47 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by trotter94
@CashMoney IT and ICT are not the same thing, ICT must be taught by secondary schools, whereas IT is optional (for the school not the student) and is usually taught at a higher level (collage). at least thats my understanding.

My thoughts are that the skills taught in ICT are useful but there currently no skills that relate to the computing industry and there needs to be.
You have to learn art for 3 years and that imo is a more specialized subject than computing, my point being that i think theres room for computing on the curriculum to have its own subject separate from ICT.

I couldn't agree more.

Also, if you look at the qualifications being pushed by the govt now, they are all well past it; they require a written exam at the end and far too much "chalk & talk".

Sadly enough, one of the qualifications that had the potential to allow more choice is the bane of the govt because it was abused by most schools to boost the 5 A* - C. There were units on web design, graphics, animation, employment in ICT and more, but most schools did the "easier" units instead.

Having taught this as a proper option subject, I enjoy seeing the students producing a banner advert in Flash and then incorporating that in their website, alongside the buttons and other images created in Fireworks. We also used PowerPoint to create a multimedia branching presentation that could be used to teach young children the alphabet and sign language. Can't see how many people can say that the content I have mentioned is less engaging than coding :(

If students want to code/program then there are many good 16+ options for them, just like there are for budding sociologists, psychologists, social workers, rocket scientists and medics.
MrJay 12th January 2012, 19:03 Quote
We have bread a generation of secretarys and paper pushers, nothing more.

I didn’t take a single ICT lesson in post 13 education, mail merges and spreadsheets simply didn’t interest me. In fact I found it insulting when I did the taster lessons, a trained monkey could do such tasks.

I am an IT Technician and was 100% self taught when I started my apprenticeship in 2007.

The government needs to cash in on all of the enthusiastic and very bright young boys and girls that show an interest in IT. Where I currently work there are some exceptional minds who far surpass my knowledge of some aspects of IT and yet are stuck hammering out ****ing spread sheets and concert posters.

A few kids could quite competently pick up my day to day job and we are talking about 13-15 year olds!

You get this in every subject, but IT is by far the worst.

I had a shitty unchallenged and unstimulated school life, needs to change or we are going to breed a generation of mindless consumers rather than thinkers and developers!
alialias 13th January 2012, 00:08 Quote
When it comes to GCSE options, there needs to be more tranparency. I took Applied ICT back at GCSE level, and it was more a study of how a business uses ICT than a development of any skillset.
I hope that there's someone out there figuring out a good compromise between hard computational skills and the soft skills that are applicable to any use of computers.
mminghella 13th January 2012, 06:56 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by alialias
When it comes to GCSE options, there needs to be more tranparency. I took Applied ICT back at GCSE level, and it was more a study of how a business uses ICT than a development of any skillset.
I hope that there's someone out there figuring out a good compromise between hard computational skills and the soft skills that are applicable to any use of computers.
I had the grave misfortune to have to teach applied ICT for a year. It is possibly the worst course out there. It is designed for teachers who actually know very little about ICT in practice. Funnily enough, it was in a school that typified what Gove was talking about with boring lessons teaching kids how to draw a picture of Homer Simpson by shading cells in Excel and copying out of text books. It didn't go down too well when I wanted to bin the old photocopies and start in on new work with the kids.
to_fast1 13th January 2012, 10:39 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mminghella
And you can't find out how to troubleshoot or build a PC from the internet?

yes you can but for a lot of people it is to confusing as they dont know what the parts do and why they are important so they cant make the decision which one best suits them so they simply dont bother or get confused when trying. it took me 2 years to understand how i would go about building a computer because i didnt know what each part did and why it was important and i found a lot of conflicting information and some things just had to much detail for a beginner. finding a document is much simpler.

a lot of people i know still dont know what the difference between memory and a hard drive are and some even paid to have their pc installed in their homes for them because they dont know what plugs go where and didnt want to risk breaking it.

all i mean is they should be taught what the parts do so they can understand whats happening and not be scared to take a look inside for themselves. maybe its changed since i was at school but my friends kids who went to my school recently dont know either. i understand not all schools are the same but they should at least teach them some basics in every school.
mminghella 13th January 2012, 11:18 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by to_fast1
all i mean is they should be taught what the parts do so they can understand whats happening and not be scared to take a look inside for themselves. maybe its changed since i was at school but my friends kids who went to my school recently dont know either. i understand not all schools are the same but they should at least teach them some basics in every school.

I do actually mostly agree with you but it isn't an essential piece of knowledge for everyone in much the same way as knowing how to service a car isn't.

Whether we like it or not, most people are happy to buy stuff and replace stuff. That isn't ICT's fault, but a wider societal issue that I think will change as people have less and less disposable income. I'm a techy person myself and am happy to impart my knowledge but not everyone is the same.

What really rankles about this whole issue is the broad sweeping generalisations about ICT teaching and teachers without actually looking at what we do or what we would like to do.

Do I see programming as an essential skill for secondary school? No.
Do I see PC repair, building and maintenance as esential? No.
Why not? They are niche skills in the same way as gardening, motor mechanics or medcial sciences. If you are interested, then great. get a good education pre 16 and then specialise when you know what you want to do.

However, I do take opportunities to do some html and PC compnent stuff with my classes.

As I've said previously, I see my role as to develop students into "discerning users of ICT" who will apply their knowledge and understanding to their learning and life in general.
SMIFFYDUDE 14th January 2012, 05:23 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by to_fast1
i understand not all schools are the same but they should at least teach them some basics in every school.

Like using capital letters at the start of sentences.
baztow 14th January 2012, 17:36 Quote
I want to applaud this but since the entire government no nothing about ICT and Computing, I have little faith in anything he say. I mean come on, this is one of the people that allowed the DEA to go through!
leexgx 17th January 2012, 13:28 Quote
interesting topic

ICT in most schools is just basic Word and spread sheets maybe powerpoint, to keep them happy

the school i whent to was not the best school in the world (seems more like it was an last chance school to me), i ended up there as i did not fit in what i would call normal schools, to sum all that up i had Asperger syndrome (about 2 years into last school was diagnosed), so computers is what i was good at

I used to Fix the school computers at my last school as an student with 1 level from full access (basicly had admin access), 15 years ago

other thing i did that seemed pointless to me, the hardware coarse i went on i could of done in 30 mins still it was fun 2 dead pcs and one of them went up in smoke, AT pc not ATX at the time, on board VGA connector was offset so when powered on, some how it burnt out the board who knew (then again i have killed 3-4 motherboards in in the last 3 years, OC+no active VRM cooling = fail :) )

only thing i am not good at is Writing still, (Pen paper that is, cant spell simple words sometimes but can do complicated ones)
mminghella 17th January 2012, 13:48 Quote
I don't want to have a pop at other people nedlessly, but they base everyone's experience of ICT in schools on their own. Not everyone had poor ICT, just like not everyone has poor teachers in general.

There are many excellent ICT, vast numbers of good ones and some poor ones, just like in any other sector.
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