The Inquirer-Home

Old-school IT teaching needs a major overhaul

Column Peer-led groups, not formulaic lessons, are the way to encourage UK tech whizz kids
Fri Jan 13 2012, 17:42
V3 and The INQUIRER editor Madeline Bennett

V3 editor Madeline BennettBEFORE THE UK GOVERNMENT rushes headfirst into its consultation process for overhauling the IT curriculum in schools, I'd suggest it read up on Nick D'Aloisio.

The 16-year old has already developed a string of apps, and his latest has attracted the attention - as well as a $250,000 investment - from private equity firm Horizons Ventures, whose previous investments have been into Skype, Facebook and Spotify.

The app that has caused this excitement is Summly, a tool designed to improve web browsing. It automatically summarises search results, web pages and news articles to make content easier to consume and ensure search results are relevant and can be easily evaluated, so says the app's summary. While it's proving popular so far, with tens of thousands of downloads, the reviews are mediocre, with many pointing out it needs a lot of fine tuning to work as outlined.

But then again, with $250,000 in his pocket, D'Aloisio now has the resources to do a lot of fine tuning.

To generate that amount of skills and cash, D'Aloisio surely had an excellent IT teacher? Well, actually he didn't even study computing at school. Instead, as with most of the younger generation - let's say, a minimum of 20 years younger than the most youthful politician - he is self-taught. He was using a Macbook and programs such as movie editing software from age nine, followed by downloading the Iphone development kit and coding his first piece of software when he was 12.

Based on this example, the government is missing the point about the IT curriculum. Earlier this week, education secretary Michael Gove announced plans to revamp the current IT curriculum in schools to stop children from being bored by the subject and to give them the skills wanted by employers. The current IT programme in schools will be withdrawn this September and the consultation for this will begin this month.

"Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch," Gove said.

Teachers will also be able to decide how they teach the subject, and universities and businesses will be given opportunities to help design courses and exams. The announcement comes after much pressure from industry to shift the focus of IT education in schools away from ICT with its lessons on Excel and Word, and towards computer science programming.


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