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Dr Davide Grossi is a Lecturer in the University of Liverpool’s Department of Computer Science
“The UK is witnessing a major reform in how computing skills are taught in schools. It was sparked by a comment by Google CEO Eric Schmidt who said that he was ‘flabbergasted’ that computer science isn’t taught as standard.
Speaking at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival a couple of years ago, Schmidt made the point that IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it is made.
Schmidt’s words found fertile ground in the UK. The Computing at School (CAS) working group is a national informal organisation of school teachers and computing practitioners that since 2008 has advocated and lobbied for radical changes in the teaching of Computing at school.
They dubbed the current pre-sixth-form ICT curriculum as ‘a disaster’ as far as the acquisition of computing skills was concerned. These worries are substantiated by hard stats of which, from a university perspective, the most worrying is that the number of students applying to undergraduate computing courses has halved in the last 10 years, despite raising numbers in access to university education.
So what is this new curriculum about? Its shift is radical and aims at enabling creators, rather than just users, of modern computing technology. The focus for the new curriculum is the learning of how software works rather than the previous ICT focus on how to use it. This involves not only the teaching of the basics of programming; but also, and most importantly, the basics of the theory of computing.
This is an ambitious change in perspective and involves a radical overhaul of teaching materials and techniques at all key stages. Whilst the change is welcomed by universities and businesses alike, teachers and schools are put in a very difficult position. Who will teach this new curriculum? Current ICT teachers will be required to cover material they have never taught before, and, in many cases, were never trained to teach.
Empowerment of teachers
Despite the challenges, this ‘sea change’ opens up a wonderful opportunity for Computer Science departments across the country for leading and shaping this new generation of computing teachers.
The Computer Science Department at Liverpool sees the empowerment of these teachers as a key priority in its outreach activities, which are led by Dr Katie Atkinson, Professor Frans Coenen, Dr Antony McCabe and myself. In coordination with CAS, that has now grown into an extensive national network comprising schools and university education and Computer Science departments, the department at Liverpool has become the first UK CS Department to sponsor a school ICT teacher to act as an ambassador, for the proposed reforms, amongst colleagues in Merseyside.
The teacher, Siobhan Hanlon from St Anselm’s School, will belong to the CAS ‘Master Teacher Network’.
By making use of the expertise available in the Department she will deliver knowledge transfer and CPD activities for colleagues gearing up to deliver the new computing curriculum.”
Uncomfortable lessons from Woolwich attack
This sound great. As a primary teacher I feel that we definitely need some guidance and help as how to deliver an interesting and stimulating computing curriculum. Where do I start?
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