New computing curriculum ‘still does not meet IT industry needs’

By Anh Nguyen | Computerworld UK | 

An education consultant and former ICT teacher has raised concerns that the new national curriculum for computing focuses too much on computer science, and not enough on the digital literacy and information technology aspects of IT.

The Royal Society defined digital literacy as the basic skill taught to students, computer science as the study of how computers work - including coding and programming - and information technology as the study of how technology can be used to solve problems.

Bob Harrison, who was a teacher for 35 years and is now a consultant and advises Toshiba Information Systems on education strategy, said that while he welcomed the reform of the ICT curriculum, he did not think that the right balance had been achieved.

“I think the new national curriculum is much thinner, and gives scope for teachers to innovate and experiment. However, some of the feedback was that there was too much emphasis on computer science, to the detriment of digital literacy and information technology,” he said.

“The issue is about balance. There are a lot of teachers who think it is too narrow and too specific and it will not suit the needs of all pupils and it currently does not suit the needs of the IT industry.”

While many in the IT industry have welcomed the new curriculum, Harrison believes that supportive organisations such as BCS, Chartered Institute for IT, represent just one part - the computer science and therefore the research and academic - of the industry, rather than the whole.

“The BCS does not represent the IT industry. It represents computer science. Coding and programming is only one very small part of the IT industry,” Harrison said.

“I’m not convinced that the national curriculum will meet the needs of the IT industry. I think it will meet the needs of the computer science industry.”

Teachers need more support

Another aspect of the new curriculum that worries Harrison is the lack of official support that teachers have to help them deliver the new programme of study from September 2014. The government has given teachers just one year to get up to speed with the new curriculum.

“We’ve got a seismic shift in the national curriculum for ICT to computing and the support for the seismic shift is based on volunteerism,” he said.

The volunteer work that Harrison is referring to is an IT teaching resource website that he chairs, Computing ITT & CPD and the BCS’s Computing At School (CAS) initiative. Harrison’s website has been put together by a group of just over 30 teachers and educators.

“This Google site and CAS are both based on volunteerism. They have had very little funding from the Department for Education (DfE). It relies on the network of teachers,” he said.

One of the schemes that the government has provided funding - of £2 million - for, is the BCS's network of excellence (NoE) in teaching computer science (NoE), a network of 'master' teachers to help train others to teach computer science. Harrison supports this scheme but said that with 28,000 schools, the funding is just a "drop in the ocean".

He added: “It’s all very well spelling out what teachers should be teaching. The hardest bit is to ensure you have the workforce capable of teaching.

“It is a big ask in a very small time scale.”