Science minister David Willetts brands IT education 'catastrophic'

David Willetts, minister for universities and science, says IT teaching in schools and universities is putting young people off technology careers

David Willetts, minister of state for universities and science, says IT teaching in schools and universities is "catastrophically" putting young people off technology as a career.

Speaking at the Google Big Tent event in Watford today, Willetts acknowledged the scale of the problem caused by the continuing decline in students studying computer science or IT courses at all levels of education.

In response to a question from Computer Weekly, David Willetts said: "At all levels, the IT and computer science courses in schools, colleges and universities, instead of providing us with a new generation of IT experts, catastrophically seem to be very boring and putting people off."

In higher education, he said the government is encouraging closer ties between technology firms and academics.

"We are promoting links between IT businesses and universities to make sure their needs are met by the courses being provided," Willetts said.

In schools, he highlighted the fact that education secretary Michael Gove had scrapped the current ICT curriculum, branding it unfit for purpose. But Willetts revealed there are experiments taking place in schools of new ways of teaching computer science subjects.

"Trials are going on for new ways of teaching IT and technology in schools. Instead of a passive model, they are using a creative model," Willetts said.

The minister of state for universities and science also acknowledged the failure of government and industry to tackle the growing skills shortage in IT. Willetts admitted that it took a talk last year from Google chairman Eric Schmidt, highlighting the lack of enthusiasm among young people in the UK for a career in technology, to start a public debate and act as a catalyst for further action.

The number of children studying ICT or computer science at GCSE and A-level has been falling for many years. 

Graduates from computer science courses are among the highest rates of post-university unemployment. And the proportion of people under 30 in the IT profession is significantly lower now than it was 10 years ago.

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