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Computer Science: the new English Language?

December 7, 2011 2 comments

The last thing I have time for tonight is writing a blog, but this one is bursting through my pores, so if I want to sleep, it has to be given its voice!

The odd thing is that I didn’t even think I had much to say on this topic and yes, I agree the title is somewhat obscure.  Hopefully, whatever falls on the page tonight will make the link less tenuous.

Michael Gove recently stated that, “the ICT curriculum in the past has been written for a subject that is changing all the time. I think that what we should have is computer science in the future.” 

Call me uninformed, but I’m struggling to see how one clause follows the other in this statement.  So humour me while I break it down for my own benefit:

  1. “The ICT curriculum in the past has been written for a subject that is changing all the time.”  Yes, that’s true, so is the point that the curriculum has not kept abreast of the changes in ICT?  Fine, that seems to be the truth and its irrelevance and lack of rigour are in part to blame for the fact that I haven’t been allowed to introduce the subject at examination level in MpoW.
  2. “I think that what we should have is computer science in the future.”  Okay and why not? There is clearly a dearth of availability of Computer Science teaching in UK schools and making it more widely available will please those in the Gaming industries, amongst others.

But I still can’t see why one clause follows the other. 

Why does it have to be one in place of the other?  Surely these are two quite separate, if complementary subject areas?  Is this not like suggesting that English Language teaching is the future, in place of English Literature?  (Ha, link made, but still a little tenuous, I accept!)

Whilst there is overlap between the two subjects and they are often taught by the same teacher, they are each intrinsically valuable – and separate. Where would we be without our studies of literature, of characters from other times and cultures and of their relationships with each other?  However, often meaning and our ability to empathise is enhanced by looking at the language of the piece – how it is constructed and shaped.   An understanding of both subject areas helps to make a valuable whole.

Often, there is an intellectual snobbery about the study of the English Language with only a few continuing this at a higher level –but no-one is suggesting that because it can be more rigorous and challenging as one’s studies progress, that it should replace the teaching of literature!  After all Chaucer, Wordsworth, Shakespeare – they are all dead: it is an outdated syllabus which hasn’t kept up with the times!  That is pretty much an equivalent to Gove’s argument.

No, rather it is recognised that there is a richness, depth and breadth to literature which should never be dismissed – nor in my view made optional, as it so often is, particularly at KS4.

Back to ICT – this should never be abandoned in favour of Computer Science.  Again, there tends to be an intellectual snobbery which emanates from those who hold tight to their Computer Science degrees.  Skilled and specialised they might be, but in my experience, they are often lacking in the C of ICT – communication skills!  (A wild generalisation, I know!)   That C, however, is very important in our modern world and if we take Bloom’s Taxonomy, revised to incorporate digital elements, we can see that ICT is fundamental in being able to deliver this capability – from the lower order communications skills such as texting and emailing right up to the higher order collaboration, negotiating and debating, we can see that the highest order thinking skills can be achieved through the effective teaching of ICT.

The National Curriculum Programme of Study states: “The increasing use of technology in all aspects of society makes confident, creative and productive use of ICT an essential skill for life. ICT capability encompasses not only the mastery of technical skills and techniques, but also the understanding to apply these skills purposefully, safely and responsibly in learning, everyday life and employment. ICT capability is fundamental to participation and engagement in modern society. ICT can be used to find, develop, analyse and present information, as well as to model situations and solve problems.” 

Really, what is there to argue with here?  Does this sound like a subject we can afford to ditch?

What can be argued – and the Computer Scientists DO legitimately argue, is that ICT is not often taught well.  It is rarely taught by specialists – and along with subjects such as PCSHEE- suffers as a consequence.  In addition, teaching is historically towards a qualification which is poorly constructed and tends not reward students who demonstrate higher level skills and thinking.

This does not mean it is not a valid subject.  Poor national qualifications, poor provision and poor teaching do not invalidate ICT as a subject.

What examination bodies and schools must do is recognise the value and importance of ICT.  Do we want our students to go out into the world with the fear and lack of confidence in technology that we see their teachers and parents exhibit in their attempts to function adequately in the modern world?  Technology is not going to go away.

To return to Gove’s comment about ICT  being a subject which is changing all the time, well what better subject within which to incorporate the teaching of and development of independence and transferable skills? 

ICT should be taught to all and at every Key Stage.  Computer Science should be taught more widely – agreed, but in reality, this is likely to be suited to a somewhat narrower body of students, those with a particular and more intellectual interest in the Science behind the practical and more general application of the subject.

both these subjects can and should exist,  as do English Literature and Language in the best of schools: complementing and enriching each other.  ICT should be at the ‘core’ of this relationship: studied by all, helping to deepen and enrich the study of Computer Science where this is chosen.

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