There has been a lot of criticism over the last few months for a big change in the way that the UK teaches ICT. Everyone from Eric Schmidt from Google to the President of Eidos have been complaining about the lack of programming and digital skills our children have.
In some ways it’s the technology that is too blame, in my childhood we had the ZX81 and the BBC Micro. Both of wish did very little out of the box, you needed some basic knowledge of programming to get anything working. Nowadays you can unpack a laptop sign in to your version on Windows and start ’pointing and clicking’ within minutes. The digital world has expanded over the years but in some sense we have become distanced from how this stuff actually works.
My children use computers everyday, they do their homework, play games and bascially live on them. However they both have little knowledge about how they work. ICT seems to cover stuff like Word Processing, Spreadsheets and Design but little technical content. If I ask my children about proxy sites or what an IP address is and I’ll get a pretty blank look. That is until I show them how they work and how you can use them to watch UK TV channels online on their tablets when we’re on holiday of course.
There is hope of course, educators seem to aware of the deficiencies and initiatives like the Raspberry Pi are bound to help. This little computer comes with an SD card a basic Linux operating system and two programming languages. It’s hoped this will help children engage with the underlying technology that makes our digital systems work. It’s being distributed to schools throughout the UK and maybe a generation of computer coders will follow in it’s path! It’s certainly needed in a lot of the UK IT curriculum where they still are looking at the standard spreadsheet, database, word processing type subjects. Although these can be useful skills, they are now very basic and rather dated with most people picking them up through their working life anyway.
This sort of education is not going to encourage the programmers, developers and analysts who are needed to work in the various modern technology sectors. It’s particularly hard on females who often drift away from these subjects before they are given a chance to check out their suitability. In most IT departments there is a huge gender imbalance and often females are only represented within the lower skill areas like front line help desk and support. This is despite more women going to University and studying to an advanced level.
In some senses the development of technology is largely to blame, advanced computers and mobile devices are very easy to use. The fact that they shield the user from the complexities unfortunately means they are also hidden from the potential and a true understanding of how the technology works. So everyone can work out how to stream Netflix to their phone but have no idea how to access it though a restrictive firewall or content filter when all it needs is a simple understanding of how to switch your IP address to a Netflix friendly one.