Monday, November 28, 2011

ICT & schools - we're getting it all wrong

The Next Gen. Skills campaign is kicking off today:
"One of the founding fathers of interactive entertainment and fiction Ian Livingstone OBE and Double Negative MD Alex Hope OBE will announce that some of the biggest names from the UK digital, creative and hi-tech industries have joined up with leading skills and educational bodies to back a new campaign aiming to improve the computer programming skills needed for the future growth of the UK’s economy.
Launching a day before the Chancellor’s Autumn statement, the Next Gen Skills campaign showcases:
  • Announcement of major industry supporters
  • Key policy objectives and industry demands
  • How high-tech skills contribute to the growth agenda
  • Reactions to the Government’s response to the Livingstone-Hope Review"
Three cheers for Alex Hope on the BBC this morning where he did a great job of explaining to the ever technophobic Today folk the importance of teaching kids about how computers work.  It is a truly appalling indicator of the state of our broadcast culture and education system that we are even having to ask the question.

I knew the ICT curriculum in schools was not even in terminal decline - that would have implied it once had a spark of life in it - but completely devoid of even the pedagogic DNA that might one day give it life, on talking to an ICT teacher a few years ago.  He explained to me with some enthusiasm one of the "exciting" activities, particularly for the boys, his class had been engaging in for that past few weeks. The activity?  Drawing up a balance sheet for a hypothetical car dealership using Microsoft Excel.

"Exciting?" I queried, a little less impressed than he had anticipated.

"Because Boys like cars, don't you see." he replied, baffled at my lack of outwardly visible joyful exhilaration (or was he just amazed at my remarkable self control?).

Kids learn more about computers from mucking about with Gamemaker or Scratch or the dreaded (by parents) MMORGs, or the plethora of wireless enabled gadgetry they own than they do in a school ICT class. IF the substantive chunk of the next generation, necessary to sustain a robust 21st century economy, are to learn to use computer and networking tools creatively and productively then it is vital that it be underpinned by a strong educational infrastructure.

It's an opportune time to remind people of the 20 recommendations of the Livingston Hope Review:
"Twenty recommendations across the talent pipeline


Recommendation 1. Bring computer science into the National Curriculum as an essential discipline.

Recommendation 2. Sign up the best teachers to teach computer science through Initial Teacher Training bursaries and ‘Golden Hellos’.

Recommendation 3. Use video games and visual effects at school to draw greater numbers of young people into STEM and computer science.

Recommendation 4. Set up a one-stop online repository and community site for teachers for video games and visual effects educational resources.

Recommendation 5. Include art and computer science in the English Baccalaureate.

Recommendation 6. Encourage art-tech crossover and work-based learning through school clubs.

Recommendation 7. Build a network of STEMNET and Teach First video games and visual effects Ambassadors.

Recommendation 8. Introduce a new National Video Games Development and Animation Schools Competition.

Recommendation 9. Design and implement a Next Generation of Video Games and Visual Effects Talent Careers Strategy.

Recommendation 10. Provide online careers-related resources for teachers, careers advisers and young people.

Universities, Colleges and Vocational education

Recommendation 11. Develop kitemarking schemes, building on Skillset accreditation, which allow the best specialist HE courses to differentiate themselves from less industry-relevant courses.

Recommendation 12. HEFCE should include industry-accredited specialist courses in their list of ‘Strategically Important and Vulnerable’ subjects that merit targeted funding. Industry commits to these courses through industrial scholarships and support for CPD for lecturers.

Recommendation 13. Raise awareness of the video games and visual effects industries in the eyes of STEM and arts graduates.

Recommendation 14. Give prospective university applicants access to meaningful information about employment prospects for different courses.

Recommendation 15. Develop a template for introducing workplace simulation into industry-accredited video games and visual effects courses, based on Abertay University’s Dare to be Digital competition.

Recommendation 16. Leading universities and FE colleges sponsor a high-tech creative industries University Technical College (UTC), with clear progression routes into HE.

Recommendation 17. Kitemark FE courses that offer students the best foundation in skills and knowledge to progress into Higher Education.

Training and continuous professional development

Recommendation 18. Skillset Creative Media Academies and e-skills UK’s National Skills Academy for IT to work with industry to develop specialist CPD training for video games and visual effects industries.

Recommendation 19. Support better research-oriented university-industry collaborations in video games and visual effects.

Recommendation 20. Continue to treat the 18 visual effects occupations on the Government’s shortages list as shortage occupations."
None of this is new - you'll see the same recommendations in multiple government reviews of maths, science and language education.  Some of it I don't agree with - the kite/quality mark stuff is energy sapping, distracting, superficial inspection based tick box nonsense.  But the baseline recommendation:
of putting smart dedicated teachers together with decent tools/facilities, a broad based relevant curriculum with sufficient professional freedom to experiment and kids with a natural curiosity about this stuff
would, if the political establishment had sufficient guts and long term vision to pursue it [sic], create magic.

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