Student interest in ICT finally seems to be growing with an increase of nearly 13% of students opting to take the exam at GCSE this year. Despite the rise, the government still plans to scrap the curriculum, launching a computer science alternative in two years' time.
The number of students taking ICT at GCSE level increased in 2012, despite a decline in top grades for the subject and an overall decline in GCSE results for the first time in 24 years.
An estimated 658,000 16-year olds across the UK received their results last week. Of those, 53,197 took the ICT exam this year – an increase of 12.8% on last year’s 47,128.
The GCSE results come as Education Secretary Michael Gove is considering reforms which could end GCSEs and bring back a tougher, O-level-style exam. Students are expected to sit the first O-level exams in 2016.
Due to pressures from exam regulator Ofqual, harsher grading was used for this year’s GCSE results as a way to curb ‘grade inflation’ following criticism over some subjects' past papers. A WJEC ICT paper from 2011 showed questions such as: “Give one feature of the desktop publishing software which could be used to check for spelling mistakes” and “Give a reason why bank cards have a PIN number.”
Scrapping the current ICT curriculum
Due to a growing debate about whether past papers were asking relevant questions, the ICT curriculum will be scrapped in schools from September and replaced with a computer science qualification from September 2014.
Geoffrey Taylor, head of academic programme, SAS UK said while it’s encouraging to see more students taking ICT at GCSE, we must not get complacent as the number is still fairly low: “There’s clearly still work to be done to make sure that we are equipping our students with skills that match the needs of businesses today.
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“It’s no secret that the tech industry finds it difficult to hire people with the right expertise and this poses a serious threat to growth. With the rise of social technologies and the proliferation of mobile devices, organisations are in need of employees that can exploit the great volumes of data they generate, but our graduates lack the analytical skills needed by businesses to navigate big data."
Taylor said a new curriculum for computer science is certainly a step in the right direction: “By involving employers and universities, schools will be able to equip their students with the skills that will really be of use in the future.
“It is vital for us all to encourage students to seriously engage in the perceived tougher subjects of maths and science for GCSE and A-levels as this could ensure their future career paths.”
All students should see ICT as a life skill they will need in their business lives
Ian Moyse, sales director, Cloud CRM
According to Ian Moyse, sales director at Cloud CRM provider Workbooks.com, to say that the recent decision to scrap GCSE ICT without a suitable replacement already in place is "short-sighted" is an understatement: “IT in business is in the process of change and this provides an opportunity for new, educated blood to step into new shoes with skills at hand. This will be hindered by a lack of progressive thought and education on the areas that businesses seek.
“All students should see ICT as a life skill they will need in their business lives and one that can also serve them well at home.”
Tony Glass, vice president of sales EMEA at Skillsoft said: “We understand why the government has chosen to scrap irrelevant and unpopular ICT courses – but what will replace them and ensure young people can acquire the business-critical IT and digital communications skills they urgently need to be productive members of the workforce? How many degree courses include a mandatory computer skills course?”
Glass said Skillsoft has seen this problem reflected in the way businesses use the resources from the company’s Books24/7 collection: “Last year, the book that soared in the popularity stakes was Microsoft Excel 2012 Step by Step. Outlook and Word basic introductory titles were also in high demand.
“As outdated ICT courses are consigned to the curricular dustbin, we must ensure that they are replaced by something that will prepare young people for the rewarding careers that lie ahead; and which will release employers from the need to top up new recruits’ basic education.”
The exam board OCR launched a pilot computer science GCSE in 2010, before formally launching the qualification in September 2011. An AQA GCSE in computer science has also been accredited and is due to be launched in schools this September.
Drop in number of ICT students at A-Level
Despite a rise in the number of students sitting the GCSE ICT exam this year, the number of students choosing to study ICT at A-level dropped. The results from the Joint Council for Qualifications revealed a near 10% decrease in A-level students sitting the ICT exam for 2012.
This year, 11,060 students opted to take the ICT exam – 872 fewer than in 2011.
Roy Dungworth, managing director at Modis, which is part of Adecco Group’s Unlocking Britain's Potential Campaign, said IT is one of few industries to buck the trend of job shortages for young recruits, yet there has been a 10% drop in the number of students sitting ICT at A-level: “This points to a systemic failure at the heart of IT education.”
ICT skills should be valued alongside academic excellence in our education system
Roy Dungworth, managing director, Modis
Dungworth said the new computing GCSEs, launching in September will have the potential to refresh young people’s perceptions of ICT, by teaching them how to build key programmes instead of just using them: “This is a welcome move that will capitalise on young people’s natural enthusiasm for technology. It’s just as important for every young person to have a basic understanding of technology to thrive in the modern workplace.
“These softer skills are prized by employers and should be valued alongside academic excellence in our education system. As part of the Unlocking Britain’s Potential campaign, we are calling for a long-term work skills strategy to be embedded into the national curriculum.”
Bindi Bhullar, director, HCL Technologies said, with some sources reporting a 44% drop in the number of young people going on to take higher education courses in ICT over the last 10 years, and a 53% drop in computing A-levels taken since 2004, it’s vital that the skills gap is addressed or the IT industry in this country is one of many that could be severely jeopardised.
"Perhaps the government should look to follow the lead of economies like India, and find local government sponsorship for training and support from high-tech multinational corporations," said Bhullar. "There are so many savvy young minds who are facing the prospect of having to do low-skilled, poorly paid jobs, and if the government is truly serious about embracing innovation, it should invest in IT skills for the young as a means of creating jobs, and driving Britain out of economic uncertainty."