Why computing curriculum fails to light academics’ flame of inspiration

Roundtable reveals disappointment over computing curriculum and calls for more focus on importance of informal learning

The education sector is still disappointed with the computing curriculum, criticising it for focusing too heavily on computer science and failing to highlight the importance of informal learning, according to experts at a roundtable this week.

Organised by Stone Group, the roundtable brought together industry experts and academics, to discuss the dislocation between education and the IT industry.

Despite the computing curriculum commencing this coming September many of the roundtable’s attendees felt the education sector is in need of guidance.

Sue Nieland, director of education for e-skills UK, said when the first draft of the curriculum was released “industry was disappointed.”

She added: “The version we agreed round the table didn’t come across. As a representative on that panel, it didn’t emerge as what was wanted.

“When it came back it was significantly challenged. With key stages 3, 2 and 1 changes were made in particular. For example e-safety and the notion of creativity were put back in and the curriculum was too heavy on computer science. ICT has been lost as computer science has been prioritised.”

Tony Parkin, independent educational technologist, agreed by saying: “I think we were all disappointed when we saw the curriculum. There had been lots of companies banging on about what it should be and when we saw it, it was obvious it had been funneled.

“It shouldn’t be spilt as coding verses other parts but we need to look at how to pull it back to a balance curriculum that meets the need of the industry and children.”

Joanna Poplawska, executive director for The Corporate IT Forum, education and skills commission also expressed concern: “We are concerned by the curriculum, as the way it is currently presented to us has too much focus on computer science.

“It should have width and breadth and all areas of the curriculum should come together.”

Chris Sharples, head of ICT at Lady Lumley’s School, was present with year 10 student and digital leader James.

On teaching the curriculum Sharples said: “It sounds exciting with the fact we are allowed to teach what we want however, the key as a teacher is that we are totally dependent on the programme of study.”

He added that the curriculum appears to be very heavily focused on computer science: “It’s the idea of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The curriculum needs to be broad and balanced to meet the needs of not just the students but teachers too.”

Balanced curriculum

Miles Berry, principal lecturer school of education at the University of Roehampton and chair of Naace board of management, explained that what was ICT is now labelled as computer science, but that it is still a broad and balanced curriculum designed to understand digital creativity.

“There are more bullet points and more detail under the computer science section, however no-one drafting that meant you do more of that because there are more words there. The other bits are bits teachers were already doing anyway. Detailing these areas would’ve tied teachers hands to be creative, as they already doing them, and they are just as important,” he added.

According to Berry the curriculum is the foundation for the building plans: “Through the curriculum teachers are now empowered to make those decisions themselves and I’m excited to see what will happen. Teachers have previously been told what to teach.”

Tim Riches, chief executive of DigitalMe said in defense of the new curriculum “there are some really positive things about it.”

“It talks about problem solving, and reaching goals. It’s a short curriculum and you can create some great content from it – you can create fantastic inspiring content for young people.”

DigitalMe uses Mozilla Open Badges to enable students to gain recognition for skills that are not recognised by traditional qualifications.

Supported by Nominet Trust, the Badge The UK project works to map the skills required by employers to enable students to demonstrate their full range of talents instead of just the skills that are currently measured by exam results.

Riches described the badge system as “21st century scouts on steroids”. 

"You move through your own pathways, building a whole picture of who you are. When you’re in an interview you can explain what you got that qualification and what you did,” he said.

He questioned employers: “What is it you actually want? What skills and competencies, so we can create badges mapped to that, so it’s not a qualification but a skills environment that’s created.”

Importance of informal learning

Maggie Kalnins, chief executive of the charity Inclusion Trust, said: “I have found that teachers are exceptional in their field – the restraint is the assessment model.”

She believes examination assessment is always the marker and that is the restriction: “Inside of the curriculum is the creative part, it’s not just about the qualification,” she said.

Simon Harbridge, chief executive of Stone Group, said: “We take apprentices but it is tough to find those who have the qualifications, work experience and what they do in their own time too. With the badge system you can build up a portfolio of what you’ve done.”

Parkin agreed that most learning is done in the bedroom: “Through the badge system, industry can recognise branding at a level that they understand.”

Parkin said the industry needs to undergo a shift: “It’s not about how to get the next workers into the factory. It should be about how to get young people excited and creative. You can’t deliver learning. You can deliver coal and milk, but learning is not a delivery.”

Berry said the technology industry is the same as any other when trying to get a job: “It is unlikely that you will get a place at university solely on your GCSE or A-level results, likewise you will not get a job solely based on your degree result. They want to see the people you’ve worked with, the lines of code you’ve written, etc. And all that can start in school," said Berry.

“If you want to be in the music industry your school music lessons are not going to be enough to get you through. You practice, start a rock band, etc.”

Stephen Carrick-Davies, independent consultant at Carrick-Davies and Associates, said: “In all informal learning, despite the formal education, there is still a passion for learning.”

Laura Kirsop, growth captain at Code Club, warned: “Don’t fall into formal or informal learning – both need to work together. Schools are already doing a fab job with formal learning, so it’s not about losing sight of one to benefit the other.”

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