Microsoft has invested £334,000 in a programme to help train computing teachers ahead of changes to the curriculum in September this year.
As of September 2014, the national curriculum will require computing to be taught in schools from the ages of five to 16, instead of ICT, so children can be introduced to computational thinking from an early age.
Simon Peyton Jones, chairman of the Computing at Schools group (CAS) and researcher for Microsoft, thinks this signals the change between teaching children how to use technology to teaching how it works, regardless of whether they are going to become software engineers in the future.
He said: “The 95% or 99% who are not going to become software engineers after primary school are hugely important in this and I think they need to know something about computational thinking and about the elementary aspects of computer science, regardless of what subject they go in to.”
Claire Lotriet, ICT coordinator for Henwick Primary School, believes the introduction of these principals to young children can help to engage them, and encourage them to progress further with IT education.
She said: “Especially with primary school children, if you grab their interest when they’re young, you’ve got them. Whereas if you leave it and you try to introduce this to 16-year-olds it might not be an attractive option.”
More on IT skills
Those involved in the programme said introducing these topics to children from a young age will help to close the skills gap currently seen in the IT industry and encourage women into technology roles.
Peyton Jones said that by introducing these concepts to children, and especially girls, in primary school, they may realise they have the aptitude for a career in computing before gender stereotyping has begun to govern their thinking.
He said: “Studies have shown that it’s really difficult to get girls interested in computing at secondary school age.
“The whole gender stereotyping thing is a complex business, it’s not going to be solved by one silver bullet, but I do think that this will have a very helpful contributory effect to getting more girls interested earlier, and get them to feel ‘It’s just an ordinary thing that I can be involved in’.”
CAS calls upon every organisation to do their part in teaching children the fundamentals of computing.
Hugh Milward, director of corporate affairs at Microsoft, said: “Whether you’re working at McDonald’s and managing stock ordering, or whether you are a tailor and you’re cutting material, all of it involves and level of computational thinking, and if the UK is really going to succeed and be a powerhouse, we’re going to need to have that investment and that skills set.”