“Edumatters : Teaching ICT in schools: taking the opportunity for improvement”

The following was written by my Headteacher in his regular Edumatters Newsletter about ICT…

Teaching ICT in schools:  taking the opportunity for improvement

The teaching of ICT appears to present a classic British contradiction.

On the one hand, we have led the way in many aspects of computer technology with pioneers such as Alan Turing before and during the war and, more recently with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.

Against that some have questioned Britain’s attitude to teaching ICT and whether we have let the rest of the world capitalise on yet another British invention and leave us behind.

Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman recently sparked widespread debate by saying that Britain’s IT lessons were holding back the digital economy: “Your curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software but gives no insight into how it’s made. That’s just throwing away your great computing heritage.”

The Royal Society chipped in with a January 2012 report that concluded, “The current delivery of computing education in many UK schools is highly unsatisfactory.”

So, is this criticism reasonable; is the teaching of ICT at primary and preparatory level fit for children in the 21st century? How seriously do we take the need to equip the next generations of British computer programmers and ICT specialists for the fast-changing digital world? And what do we see as our role at Winchester House?

Although ICT exams are offered at GCSE and A Level, there is no ICT Common Entrance, nor scholarship exam (although there is an ICT Certificate of Achievement).

Following its description by Michael Gove as, “demotivating and dull”, as of autumn 2012 there is no National Curriculum for ICT and the general directive to teach the use of ICT in English, maths and science at Key Stage1 is no longer statutory. Schools are free to develop their own curricula for ICT. This apparent vacuum provides schools that are on the ball with a great opportunity, as long as the replacement is an improvement.

At Winchester House we are not waiting and watching. Development of our own hugely enhanced curriculum has been in place since 2011 under the guidance of our excellent head of ICT, who has very strong views on its teaching.

Our approach is based on four guidelines:

1. It’s about more than Word documents

We have shifted the emphasis to raising a child’s horizon from dry Word documents to realising the many and exciting possibilities with a computer. To help this we explain the basics of how a computer works and of programming – we think Google’s Eric Schmidt would approve.

2. Taking a look under the bonnet

We are helping children understand the components of a computer: what RAM means, how speed is important, how email goes around the world and then translating that into children’s everyday reality by examining the difference between, for example, the first PlayStation and the latest version.

3. Imagine

“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind,” said Winston Churchill. We inspire children to look ahead and imagine what computers could be like in the next 30 years in terms of hardware and software and to what uses they could be put. It’s working already: in June, Year 8 created their own app for the Apple iPad.

4. Integrating the teaching of ICT

Finally, within the learning process we are building on our belief that ICT is both a fascinating and inspiring subject in its own right as well as a tool for learning other subjects, one that is integrated and relevant to many lessons as well as being fun and exciting.

RethinkingICT Conference

This last guideline was at the heart of a highly successful conference hosted by Winchester House in June and titled, “RethinkingICT”. The conference was initiated and organised by our head of ICT with the support of other members of staff.

The event was publicised through Twitter and such was the level of interest that we got to the point of turning people away.

100 delegates attended, made up of teachers from primary, secondary, state and private schools plus representatives from training organisations and industry.

The main conference theme was accepting the challenge embodied in Eric Schmidt’s comments and discussion of how to improve the teaching of ICT.

Judging by the extraordinary level of interest shown in our RethinkingICT conference and the comments of high profile industry leaders, two things are apparent: there is tangible concern about the way ICT is taught in some British schools and there are a lot of people committed to improving it.

At Winchester House I believe we have already gone a long way towards making ICT interesting, fun and relevant to the demands of the 21st century.

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