Bett Show: A great week for the computer science curriculum

Computer science curriculum enjoys great week with speeches from education leaders, Microsoft support and becoming a part of the EBacc

Insightful speeches from IT academics and education leaders at the Bett Show, Microsoft calling for changes in teaching and being introduced into the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) – all in all it has been a positive week for the computer science curriculum.

In addition, UCAS yesterday announced that the number of prospective students seeking to study computer science has increased by 12.3% to 86,294.

During the Bett Show, taking place at the Excel Centre in London this week, Michael Levine, founding executive director of research lab the Joan Ganz Cooney Centre, said to increase awareness of computer science “Parents and teachers need to see how technology can enrich the lives of students. They may be concerned by too many games being used in teaching and whether it is quality content.”

Levine said parents and teachers are the “key gatekeepers” of technology, and naturally both are going to be cautious about introducing it into students’ educational environments.

Unchartered territory

He pointed out that video games have previously been blamed for a student’s lack of focus: “This is relatively unchartered territory at the moment, so the gatekeepers are wary and are keeping the kids close to the homestead. We need to unite parents and educators in a common purpose to enable schools to share data with the home,” added Levine.

Daphine Koller, co-founder of Coursera and a professor at Stanford University, said students need to be engaged through technology in order to learn. Quoting Edwin Emery Slosson, a scientist, editor and author from the 1920s, she said: “College is a place where a professor’s lecture notes go straight to the students’ lecture notes, without passing through the brains of either."

Shimon Schocken, computer scientist and Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) pioneer, was on the same page as Koller: “I want my students to explore, get lost and feel in awe with the subject matter. We do not pause to celebrate 'Aha!' moments. These moments should become an integral part of education,” he said.

This week has seen Microsoft call upon the UK education system to change the way it currently teaches computer science, or risk falling behind other countries that are focusing on teaching the subject in primary schools.

The software giant highlighted the gaming sector as an area that could benefit from an increase uptake of computer science students.

Changes to the way computer science is taught

Steve Beswick, director of education at Microsoft UK, said: “Computer science is something that we have been calling the ‘fourth science’ for some time. We believe that it is every bit as important as physics, chemistry and biology.”

“By formally introducing children to computer science basics at primary school, we stand a far greater chance of increasing the numbers taking the subject through to degree level and ultimately the world of work.”

According to Microsoft, there are an estimated 100,000 unfilled jobs in the UK that require candidates with qualifications in computer science. However, last year only 30,520 students graduated with a degree in the subject, which was a fall from the previous year.

Many UK primary schools already teach computer science through simple programmes such as Microsoft’s Kodu for creating visual programming language for games. However, there is currently no formal programme of training for teachers.

Nicki Maddams, teacher at Hartsdown Academy in Kent, said: “I’ve been teaching Computer Science using Kodu for the past three years. It has transformed the way my pupils view computer science.

“They have really embraced the new way we teach it, and it is really exciting for me as a teacher to know that some of the computer games developers of the future are in my class.”

The education secretary, Michael Gove recently announced that computer science will be included in the EBacc, meaning the subject will be added to the list of separate science options making four student options for science instead of the traditional three.

After hearing the news, Ian Livingstone, life president of Eidos and chair of Next Gen Skills, said: “From problem solving to writing code, computer science will help ensure that this country produces a new generation of digital makers, not just for the games industry, but for all creative and digital industries, and help drive the economy.”

Furthermore, this week Google decided to donate 15,000 Raspberry Pi’s to school pupils in the UK.

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