It is always good to reflect on and evaluate your own ideas and opinions and two factors have recently caused me to re-examine whether all this focus on IT and Coding are a move in the right direction to improve teaching and learning (and give students tangible benefits!
Firstly, the National Curriculum framework has changed to greatly emphasize Computer Science (as opposed to ICT or IT), and based on my conversations with Digital Literacy Coaches, now seems a good time to ask whether compulsory Computing for Key Stages 1-4 is actually justified.
Why Computer Science should be Compulsory
The general argument goes something like this:
- All students study English from an early age – so that they can communicate.
- All students study Mathematics even though not very many progress to study it at University
The general feeling is that there is a certain level of skill and knowledge needed to understand the world, to communicate and function in society.
Hopefully most students enjoy studying English and Maths, and hopefully they understand why these subjects are important! . Maths is certainly an important subject and useful in the further study of engineering and technology.
Other subjects are also compulsory; a smattering of at least 2 of the 3 Sciences are deemed necessary as well as some attention paid to the humanities (some History and/or Geography). Can these also the justified? Hopefully this can be supported based on the fact that students need to make sense of the world around them and these subjects help them inquire and answer some very important "why?" questions. Science is also important in future study of engineering and medicine.
In light of this, is Computing justifiable as a a compulsory subject in the same light as the other subjects?
Traditional ICT (how to use word-processors, the internet, e-safety, etc.) provide tools that are going to be important in later life, but these are not what is being called Computer Science. Coding was not really integral to the old ICT courses and so, should all students be required to "design and write programs that accomplish specific goals"?. This also leads to another problem in that coding is not an easy thing to understand and finding teachers who are confident teaching this new focus can be a challenge.
Is Computer Science actually a Science? it does not make use of scientific method to advance understanding of the world and although computer can be used in many careers, the knowledge and skills from computing don't underpin other subjects (like maths and science and the other compulsory subject do).
Digital Literacy is important and the fact that computers are "everywhere" makes it essential that all our students understand how they work, what they can do and how they can be used to make life better (and stay safe)! This argument is a version of the question posed by the Digital Learning Coach (and the same argument can be made that cars are useful and yet we don't teach Car Science!) The best case to be made for making Computer Science compulsory is the unique thinking skills such as Computational Thinking that students can develop and use and perhaps the extent that Computer Science is compulsory or not
Personally, I think all students need to have the chance to experience Computer Science (with coding, Digital Literacy and Computational Thinking) as a subject in its own right at all ages AND with its use being embedded within curriculum (similar to how numeracy and literacy are also embedded within all subject AND are also taught on their own). Computing knowledge and skills are just too important!
From what I can see then, there are two challenges:
1) Making sure a Computing Curriculum matches teaching and learning needs
2) Ensuring that that embedding of computing within the general curriculum is based on maximising teaching and learning (and is used to advance the learning of the subjects and not just advance the use of computers).
A dual approach will enable students to develop the skills and knowledge to use computer and it is crucial to address both aspects as an embedded approach only (without having discrete lessons) could mean that students rarely use their devices to their full potential.
It is crucial to address both aspects as an embedded approach only (without having discrete lessons) could mean that students rarely use their devices to their full potential.