Pupils switch off from skills they need to shape digital future

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WHEN Michael Gove said that schoolchildren are “bored out of their minds” by computer science at school, he wasn’t pulling any punches.

Speaking at a conference in London yesterday, the Education Secretary said that England’s ICT curriculum is failing to prepare youngsters for the future and will be scrapped from September.

It is being replaced by a new curriculum in computer science and programming designed with the help of universities and industry, aimed at bringing to an end “boring” IT lessons and giving young people the skills to be “able to work at the forefront of technological change.”

Mr Gove said the inadequate grounding in computing offered by the current curriculum was in danger of damaging Britain’s economic prospects, and called for a revival of the legacy of British computer pioneer Alan Turing whose work in the 1930s laid the foundation of the modern computing industry.

Under the proposed changes, schools will be free to use lessons and resources that have been developed by experts with support from the likes of Google and Microsoft. Computer games entrepreneur Ian Livingstone, an adviser to Mr Gove, envisages a new curriculum that could have teenagers creating their own apps for smartphones.

Mr Livingstone, co-author of last year’s Next Gen report which highlighted the poor quality of computer teaching in schools, said: “The current lessons are essentially irrelevant to today’s generation of children who can learn PowerPoint in a week.”

Between 2001 and 2006 there was a 43 per cent drop in the number of students doing A-level computing and Jamie Sefton, managing director of Game Republic, believes too many young people have been put off a career in computing. “Kids were being taught how to use Word and Excel and found it dull. The knock-on effect has created a perception of computing as a dull, repetitive and low-paid industry which is not the case at all,” he says.

“We have to show young people what an exciting industry this is, we need to be encouraging 13 and 14 year-olds and showing them that they can write the next video game hit, because that’s the kind of thing that inspires them.

“But programming isn’t just part of the gaming industry, the whole digital economy of the future is going to need more people who can write this kind of technology.”

Bill Mitchell, director of BCS Academy of Computing, is pleased the Government is emphasising the importance of teaching computer science in schools. “Back in the 90s, people were getting excited about the emerging internet technology. People needed computers and there was a great emphasis placed on learning about computer software, because it was felt this was important. So there was a focus on that but we forgot to teach the fundamental principles of computer science and pupils need to know how to create technologies, not just use the software,” he says.

“It is vitally important that schools are able to offer computer science as part of the curriculum in order for the UK to remain at the forefront of the digital revolution and economy. If we do this successfully we will be able to give children the opportunity not only to use technology but to also be creative and innovative through computing and have the opportunity to be the entrepreneurs and innovators of the future.”