IT teaching reform arrives at last - we may not get the opportunity again

There are some topics in technology that you wish you no longer had to write about.

Government IT failures, for example. The scarcity of UK tech start-ups growing into international players. The business/IT divide. The lack of women in IT. And for as long as I can remember – the appalling state of IT education in schools.

So it’s particularly pleasing to see a potential end in sight for the last of those, thanks to education secretary Michael Gove’s announcement that the current ICT curriculum is to be scrapped forthwith.

Awareness of the problem of lousy IT education has been around for a lot longer than some of those who have recently jumped on this bandwagon would have you believe. That longevity of the issue is why there has been such a huge sigh of relief across the industry at Gove’s announcement today.

We were asking the government what it plans to do to revitalise IT education as soon as the coalition came to power. And we’ve been cataloguing the decline in IT student numbers for years.

So today’s news is an important milestone, but only the start.

Gove was right to call the current curriculum “harmful and dull”, but I’m a little sceptical about using populist phrases such as developing an “open source” curriculum in its place – something that could lead to fragmentation of subject matter and varying standards of teaching if it’s not properly managed and assessed. There’s also the challenge of finding specialist IT teachers who can transfer their passion for technology into their students – too many of those teaching the ICT curriculum are not specialists in the subject but have been co-opted in, such as maths or science teachers.

But at least the government wants to put IT teaching into the hands of the IT industry that knows what it wants from the school leavers it so desperately needs, and which will be needed to put technology at the heart of UK economic recovery.

It still seems amazing that last year research showed the proportion of the UK IT workforce below 30 had dropped from 33% in 2001 to just 19% in 2010. So much for all the years the IT profession was accused of being ageist.

Scrapping the current IT curriculum is the right first step. Harnessing young people’s enthusiasm for the technology they use in creative ways that excite them about a career in IT, is the next step. We may not get this opportunity again.

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