Why our National Curriculum is a National Joke and how the teaching of IT in the UK needs an overhaul

Louise Kidney asks: Who will drive change and the needed evolution of technology in the UK if the teaching of Information Technology remains fundamentally flawed?

ICT GCSE Exam Hall

Ask any 13 year old child what computers mean to them and I am sure you will not find mention of any of the following: word processing, safe and secure storage, data protection, flowcharts and legalities.

Sounds dry, doesn’t it? Provokes the question, why so serious, even?

Yet believe it or not, the 2010 rerelease by Edexcel of their IT GCSE features all of those things. If you’re lucky, by the end of the course you might be able to produce a website. But it will be a basic website, it wont play well with other websites and you’ll probably have fallen asleep by the end of most lessons.

Reflections of reality

Compare and contrast to the web we all know and love. One where the conversations and discussions flow, where the answers can always be found. A place where knowledge is free, self teaching is rife, Wikipedia is our go-to for almost every question known to man and we  can get, should we want to, free films, free books and free music. One which has evolved through the last 20 plus years to be the conduit for massive change, perhaps the biggest change since the industrial revolution. Our world owes a lot to a certain Brit – he enabled internet shopping, dot com crashes, Crackberries, social media communication and social media revolutions.

And yet we tell our young people none of these things.

Content is key

The badge slapped onto the GCSE is actually quite encouraging. Unit 1 – Living in the digital world. Unit 2 – Using digital tools. Unit 3 – Digital design. Unit 4 – Creating digital products. On the surface, you would expect Using digital tools to cover a plethora of funky tech from fingerprint accessed security, to advances in touchscreen displays, from Facebook and how it’s being used for work based activities to keeping yourself safe on Twitter.

Instead, the Student Guide to this unit, apart from being almost unreadable, contains some notable gems such as ‘How to create a high-strength, maximum security password’ or ‘How to select the optimum model mobile phone for a range of different usage requirements’.

Yes. You did read that right. Our teachers, in our schools, are going to be teaching 15 and 16 year olds how to pick a mobile phone. May I humbly suggest that perhaps by this point every child in the class will already be quite versed in making this decision and that perhaps 1 in 1000 of those taking the GCSE will ever be responsible for procurement of work mobile phones after they have endured this woeful subject? And who on earth decided that the word optimum was an appropriate word to use on a flyer which was obviously intended to be funky and cool?

No. Instead of cool, it screams ‘we’ve dressed up the most boring soul destroying parts of our curriculum in this cool funky wrapper and are hoping you wont actually read any of it’.

Edexcel GCSE ICT

These boots are made for walking (and voting)

But who am I to bemoan things as a 30+ woman in IT? Well, don’t take it just from me. As this article from last year states, 17% of teenagers voted with their feet last year. Even taking into account that they may have been offered only the old syllabus, which contained such gems as teaching teenagers how to use word processing software, this figure is terrifying.

Which leaves the government with an few interesting problems. The first is that 2.49 unemployed people is a big number and reducing it requires those people being equipped with the right skill sets. Did they leave school with them?

Then there’s the glowing vision of a UK competitor to silicon valley recently launched by the ConDem government. We have the emerging skills now to staff some startups and the upcoming Silicon Milkroundabout will not struggle to find eager young developers hunting for the right someone to harness their bright eyed enthusiasm.

The future’s bleak

But where will the future enthused talent come from? Who will drive change and the needed evolution of technology in this country if not todays schoolchildren? If IT delivered in school makes no mention of the code which drives the software we use, makes no mention of the communication revolution happening right beneath out feet, how can we expect any of those schoolchildren to aspire to work one day for the next Spotify or Huddle?

And finally, as one couple with a fledgling young coder pointed out to me – where is the alternative teaching for those children who do not only know where the on switch is, but in all likelihood where the Police National Computers on switch is too? What provision for exceptionally bright  young coders? Are we incubating the next wave of hackers and security risks because we are not offering the opportunity to do more positive and aspirational things with the skills learnt through self teaching in their bedrooms?

10 years ago, these were policy questions. Today they have moved into the must be answered category. Otherwise we risk a new decade of brain drain and no seat around the table in the new power struggle of digital economies.