The issue of how computing and technology are taught in British schools has come into the spotlight again, after games industry giant Ian Livingstone spoke to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee at the House of Commons recently. Most schools are already well-stocked with a range of desktop and laptop computers and a large proportion of households also have a device at home, thanks to their easy availability from suppliers like Misco.
Most people who completed an Information Technology GCSE will remember it as one of the easiest exams they’ve ever taken – the course essentially taught you how to use office software like Word and Excel, something many of us were already a dab hand with at that age. However, Mr Livingstone – current president of Eidos Interactive and co-founder of Games Workshop – believes pupils should learn more advanced programming skills too if the UK’s digital industry is to continue thriving.
“The most overriding thing for me has been the skills base. Because historically IT taught children how to use the technology and gave absolutely no insight in how to create technology. You’re effectively teaching children how to read but not how to write,” Develop-Online reports him as saying. “Now the skills of computer science and computing coding are transferable. It’s not just about making the next Angry Birds … computer code is everything at the heart of the digital world in which we operate today.”
There are some signs that education is moving toward teaching children advanced computing skills as well as the basics they will need for office jobs. In January, the Department for Education announced that computer science is due to become part of the English Baccalaureate, meaning it will soon be one of the science options that count toward secondary school league tables. Education secretary Michael Gove said the information and communications technology curriculum will be replaced with a “more challenging” curriculum in computer science.
Additionally, last month Google announced that it will donate 15,000 microcomputers to schools around the country through the Raspberry Pi Foundation, which develops cheap but powerful mini-PCs that are about the size of a credit card. The devices will be distributed to schools by educational partners like Coderdojo and Computing at School, organisations that promote the teaching of computer programming at younger ages.
The Raspberry Pi comes pre-loaded with Scratch, a tool developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which allows novice programmers to make simple games and movies with ready-made lines of code. It also contains an environment where users can program in Python, a simple coding language that serves as a good introduction to the world of computer programming.
“Britain’s innovators and entrepreneurs have changed the world – the telephone, television and computers were all invented here,” said Google chairman Eric Schmidt. “We have been working to encourage the next generation of computer scientists and we hope this donation … to British school pupils will help drive a new wave of innovation.”