Just over 10 years ago, BIll Gates had dinner with Tony Blair at 10 Downing St. His reward was that every secondary school was required to teach children to use the products of the Microsoft Corporation, under the subject heading of “ICT”. Because if an American tycoon says we need it, then obviously we do.
Then last August, former Google boss Eric Schmidt came to London and gave a well-publicised speech criticising English education system for promoting his competitor’s products in our schools. And he had a point. His proposed solution, though, was as biased as the previous one: we should teach all young people computer science so they can go and work at Google.
Now comes the bad bit. In a knee-jerk response, the Education Minister has today decreed that ICT is to be swept away and replaced by Computer Science in September. So we have eight months in which to retrain the 80% of ICT teachers who have no background in comp-sci, to write a new curriculum and devise new examinations – something that requires a lead time of at least two years.
Personally, I’ll not be sorry to see the back of the old ICT curriculum. It does a fair job of equipping young people for the office jobs of the late 20th Century, but that is not going to be of service to many when they enter the world of work in 2015 or beyond.
And I’ll be delighted to see a new emphasis on computing. Some students really get into it, and supporting their enthusiasm is a good investment for all of us.
But what about those kids for whom computers, like cars, are just boxes with functions? They are never going to become computer engineers and I see no reason to beat them about the head with that. They would be better served by an up-to-date – in fact future-oriented – Computer Literacy course.
We are not going to get that from Eric Schmidt, though, are we? Never mind; give it another decade and it will be Mark Zuckerberg’s turn. Let’s see what he tells us to do.
Update: this excellent and considered response to the speech from Daniel Needlestone is well-worth reading.