By Billy MacInnes
Many of the pioneers of the IT industry and channel did not have an IT qualification and it's beginning to look as if the same will be true for future generations unless there's a dramatic improvement in ICT and Computer Science courses in schools.
The Royal Society has suggested that a big decline in the number of pupils studying computing in the UK is down to the poor design and delivery of ICT and computer science curricula in schools which has "severely limited" students' understanding and enjoyment of the subjects.
According to figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications, there was a 33% fall in pupils sitting ICT GCSEs between 2006 and 2009, a similar decline in A Level ICT from 2003 to 2009 and a massive 57% drop in those taking A Level Computing between 2001 and 2009.
The Society is leading a study into the issues affecting the teaching of computing in schools which will also look at possible solutions. Professional bodies, industry corporations (including Google and Microsoft Research), higher education establishments and school teachers are all taking part.
Professor Steve Furber, Fellow of the Royal Society and chair of the study, said the UK had a "proud history of leading the way in the field of computer science and associated disciplines" but the enthusiasm of the next generation was wasting away because of poorly conceived courses and syllabuses.
"If we cannot address the problem of how to educate our young people in inspirational and appropriate ways, we risk a future workforce that is totally unskilled and unsuited to tomorrow's job market," he warned.
Dr David J. Harper, head of university relations at Google EMEA, said the company strongly supported the study. "At a time when computers are playing an ever more important role in our work and everyday lives, we should be able to encourage more, not fewer, students to learn how to create with technology. It's a sad loss that we're missing this opportunity," he added.
While students were full of enthusiasm and excitement for personal technology such as mobile phones and games consoles, it was not translating into the classroom, observed Karen Price, chief executive of e-skills UK. "ICT education in schools needs to inform and inspire young people about technology and allow them to appreciate the excitement and relevance of a career in IT," she said.