#Rethinking ICT in schools: what’s in a name?

#Rethinking ICT in schools: what’s in a name?

Reflections on the debate of how ICT should figure in schools following our visit to the Rethinking ICT conference. Should the reform of ICT in schools start with a change of name?

Two of us from busythings went last Monday to the Rethinking ICT conference organised at Winchester House School by its head of ICT, Chris Leach.

Some great stuff.

100 or so primary and secondary ICT teachers agonising over whether their subject needs rebranding. This after the Royal Society had declared that the term ICT switches children off and should be abandoned. Even more, the subject itself, which in too many schools has been reduced to teaching ‘how to use office software’, should be disaggregated into Computer Science (the rigorous study of programming languages, algorithms etc) Information Technology (the use of computers in science, industry, the arts and elsewhere) and Digital Literacy (the general ability to use computers –the RS would have us write this in lower case because it is a mere? skill rather than a proper academic subject).

Much discussion, but not a lot of agreement – some arguing that the refocus on Computer Science and Information Technology should be signalled by a change of name (Computer Science, Digital Studies), others saying that the name ICT should be kept (anyway, nobody knows what acronym ICT actually stands for) and attention concentrated instead on what’s in the tin, rather than what’s on the label.

We sensed a general welcome for Gove’s decision (picking up on the criticisms of the RS, Next Gen, Ofsted and others) to ‘disapply’ the ICT programmes of study across the board from this coming September, while its content and place in the proposed new National Curriculum were still under review. This amounted to the declaration of an open season for curriculum designers. We heard about Naace’s new curriculum framework, as well as Computing at School’s draft of programmes for KS2 and KS3 which shows how Computer Science could be integrated into the existing structures. So it looks as if there has been a lot of constructive thinking about how specialist ICT teachers (as well as generalist teachers with ICT skills) can bring Computer Science in from the cold and so help enthuse the next generation of programmers without threatening the commitment to enable all children to become literate (or ‘wise’ – Naace’s word) users of rapidly developing digital technologies. Add to this the abiding problem of persuading digitally challenged colleagues to take up the cause (apparently a sore point with some of the contributors) and it seems that ICT enthusiasts have a lot on their plate.

As members of a (small) team of software designers and developers who have come to the job from a variety of educational backgrounds (in fine art with virtually no computing, graphic design with some, and computer science with more than enough) we found this whole debate about how ICT should figure in schools well worth listening to. We were also much taken with accounts of two projects that encourage children (and their teachers) to become creative ICT users. Julia Skinner’s ‘100 Word Challenge’ asks children to produce a short piece (‘just a 100 words’) of creative writing in response to picture and word prompts. Their work is posted on their class blog, linked to the 100WC.net website and commented on by other children and volunteer adults. Doing this gives children the experience of becoming published authors with an appreciative, if sometimes politely critical, readership. Equally interesting is the Digital Leaders project which invites children to volunteer to take over (under supervision) some of the tasks that routinely fall on the shoulders of ICT coordinators – an ingenious way of shedding some of the load while giving a children the opportunity to upgrade their skills and become involved in the management of what they are doing.

Most of the discussion was concerned with the ‘higher’ end of ICT teaching and learning in schools – with later primary and secondary education. We would have liked to have heard more of people’s views on how, and how early, children should begin their ICT education. We all know that many 5 year olds are digitally active if not yet digitally wise. Ever since the introduction of the National Curriculum, progammes of study for ICT (initially called IT) have been operative from the age of 5 onwards. The recent critics of ICT have concerned themselves with the whole age range from 5 to 16.The RS while stating that “every pupil at key stage 2 and key stage 3 should have the opportunity to learn material that is recognisably Computer Science” also says that “every child should have the opportunity to learn concepts and principles from Computing (including Computer Science and Information Technology) from the beginning of primary education onwards …” So the question of what 5 or 6 year-olds ought to be doing with ICT and what they ought to be learning about it is a very live issue in which we as publishers of early years and KS1 software take an active interest.

Sadly, the new Early Years Framework has little to say on this issue. If anything it took a step backwards – dropping the Early Learning Goal for ICT that had been included in the original Framework that it replaces. True, ICT still figures in the supplementary Development Matters guidance for the early years but this only the sketchiest of help to Reception class teachers who want to find ways of responding to their children’s awakening interest in digital technology.

More useful are the self-help initiatives of a number of ICT teachers and coordinators. The Conference grew out of the efforts of its organiser Chris Leach to devise a curriculum that would serve the needs of his prep school which teaches ICT as a separate subject for all year groups from Year 8 down to Nursery. Another innovator we have been following for some time is Ian Addison, a primary school ICT Coordinator who spoke about an ICT planning aid he developed for the teachers in his school and is now making public. This gives an overview of the tools that are available to Foundation Stage and Primary teachers and shows how they can be used across the curriculum to help achieve learning targets set for successive year groups.

We have come away from this very lively conference convinced that if there is to be some sort of marriage between computing as a set skills and computer science as an academic discipline this is how it will be brokered – through the efforts of those who teach day-to-day and have what one speaker confessed openly to – a passion for the subject. If the union is brought about what name will the happy couple live under? We have yet to see, but for better or worse it will be decided when the National Curriculum Review publishes draft programmes of study later this year. Gove has promised that the new programmes will not be restrictive:

“Disapplying the ICT programme of study is about freedom. It will mean that, for the first time, teachers will be allowed to cover truly innovative, specialist and challenging topics. And whether they choose a premade curriculum, or whether they design their own programme of study specifically for their school, they will have the freedom and flexibility to decide what is best for their pupils. Teachers will now be allowed to focus more sharply on the subjects they think matter – for example, teaching exactly how computers work, studying the basics of programming and coding and encouraging pupils to have a go themselves.”

All in all an enjoyable and instructive day – even for non-teachers like us.

Links:

Chris Leach’s Rethinking ICT website: https://rethinkingict.wordpress.com/

The Royal Society report on computing in schools: Shut down or restart?: The way forward for computing in UK schools

Computing at School’s curriculum for computer science: http://www.computingatschool.org.uk/data/uploads/ComputingCurric.pdf100wc.net/

100 Word Challenge: https://100wc.net/teachers-note/

Ian Addison’s ICT planning site https://sites.google.com/a/stjohnsapps.co.uk/ict-planning/introduction. He has also blogged on the Digital Leaders initiative at https://ianaddison.net/tag/digital-leaders/

Michael Gove’s BETT speech: http://aka.education.gov.uk/inthenews/speeches/a00201868/michael-gove-speech-at-the-bett-show-2012

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