The state of the digital nation

When I was at primary school in Yorkshire I programmed a mechanical turtle to move around the room but by the time I reached secondary school all I was being taught was Microsoft Office. It was so dull it turned me off computers for years. I’m not alone, I’ve had this depressing experience repeated back to me almost every time I’ve asked someone about their ICT education.

In his article ‘Why all our kids should be taught how code’ John Naughton at The Guardian recognises that “Instead of educating children about the most revolutionary technology of their young lifetimes, we have focused on training them to use obsolescent software products.”

It is a sad fact that ICT education in UK schools has become painfully outdated. Whilst this state of affairs has been generally ignored by most, it has now reached the point where Whitehall has been forced to admit that something must be done and plans to create a new ICT curriculum.

John Naughton’s outline for a “big vision” on which to base the new curriculum is: “Starting in primary school, children from all backgrounds and every part of the UK should have the opportunity to: learn some of the key ideas of computer science; understand computational thinking; learn to program; and have the opportunity to progress to the next level of excellence in these activities.” He’s also written a manifesto on the future of ICT here which you should read too.

He notes that “… The biggest justification for change is not economic but moral. It is that if we don’t act now we will be short-changing our children. They live in a world that is shaped by physics, chemistry, biology and history, and so we – rightly – want them to understand these things. But their world will be also shaped and configured by networked computing and if they don’t have a deeper understanding of this stuff then they will effectively be intellectually crippled. “

There is growing support for changing the ICT curriculum and lobbyists have done an excellent job in making it a significant priority for the government to deal with. Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove called the current ICT curriculum “demotivating and dull” and at  the BETT show for educational technology in London announced that a radical overhaul of the ICT curriculum would be taking place.

It’s fantastic news that the government have recognised this issue and are proactive in making change but government is a huge grinding machine and designing this new curriculum properly will take years. I see it akin to turning the Titanic around. It will be painfully slow.

So can we do something in the meantime to get kids excited about coding? Yes we can – watch this space.