'Boring' IT classes face being axed

'Boring' IT classes face being axed

Summary: U.K. schools are to axe traditional IT classes, allowing schools to implement an open source curriculum. Are they right to?

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TOPICS: CXO, Google
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In an attempt to modernise IT classes and make them relevant to today's industry, the U.K. government is planning to allow schools more freedom in their choice of content.

The education secretary, Micheal Gove, has announced changes planned for September 2012, ditching the traditional curriculum in ICT for an open-source alternative to assist students in a rapidly digitising economy.

Gove has called the current curriculum "harmful and dull." He wants to encourage schools to integrate more content focusing on computer science -- stepping away from simple use of Excel, Powerpoint and Word that current GCSE courses cling to.

I recall my own time studying ICT in Britain -- and the only thing I found useful, although detested at the time, was learning how to touch-type. I consider this one of the most valuable skills that I left school equipped with, although the drone of 'H, J, K, L, Space' still haunts my dreams.

Perhaps the Department for Education has finally clued up to the fact that most students are already far more technologically proficient than the boundaries of Office applications require.

Instead of being "bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers", the education secretary hopes that children could learn how to program, and should be taught about mobile technology, animation and advances in computing science.

ICT will still remain compulsory, but following pressure from businesses of a shortage in computer literate staff, courses will be receiving this overhaul. IBM and Microsoft are already working on a pilot GCSE curriculum, and the British Computer Society has received guidance from Microsoft, Google and Cambridge University concerning courses leading up to the GCSE exams taught in secondary schools.

If Britain is going to remain a competitive force in the computing industry, this assessment of the IT syllabus is past due. The point of educating children is to equip them for life outside of school -- and in this subject, the content matter is sadly lacking. Most skills taught in the current GCSE course students can learn quickly, and the same content matter is continually repeated.

Frankly, the assessment that the current course sends students in to the world of daydreams and doodles is utterly true. A new GCSE in computing is required if children are going to go on to work or further studies with the skills businesses now need.

I would also suggest that students should be taught more extensively about online privacy, phishing scams and data collection. These are rapidly becoming issues that are just as important to learn about as how to use various software -- perhaps we could therefore prepare the next generation not only by giving them more appropriate skills, but how to conduct themselves properly online.

As your online profile is often scrutinised as much, if not more, than traditional resumes, if we want to equip students to join the labour force, they should understand what elements of communication online can scupper their chances.

Photo credit: Micheal Surran/Flickr

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14 comments
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  • RE: 'Boring' IT classes face being axed

    Schools should not teach students to depend on any particular software. Teach them to be software agnostic, is the smart thing to do.
    Rick_Kl
    • RE: 'Boring' IT classes face being axed

      @Rick_Kl out of interest, what would you recommend for schools to teach rick?
      charlieosborne
      • RE: 'Boring' IT classes face being axed

        @charlieosborne teach a mix of software, restricting students to One OS, Office suite, Photo editor, etc is not adequately preparing them for the real world. Teach them a mx of software, that way they can cope with change, when change happens.

        Let???s look at the current mobile landscape? in 2007 there were two major players Windows Mobile and Blackberry. Today those two are bordering on non existent while Android, and iOS, are the major players. Who can say that four years from now we might not see a new entrant as the number one player, and Windows becoming a non-player in mobile?
        Rick_Kl
      • RE: 'Boring' IT classes face being axed

        @Rick_Kl
        Wrong Rick, when someone asks if they know Word or Excel and the answer is no, they will be thanked for their time and promptly asked to leave the site.
        Loverock Davidson-
      • RE: 'Boring' IT classes face being axed

        @Loverock Davidson-: we are having an adult conversation here, why don???t you go downstairs and play with your xbox?
        Rick_Kl
      • RE: 'Boring' IT classes face being axed

        @Rick_Kl: Better still, teach them the underlying principles and the kids will be able to pick up and understand almost anything out there.

        I came from a time (first computer: Dragon32 in 1982, BBC Micro 1983, Sinclair QL in 1986, Atari ST in 1997) and place (UK) where we learned binary, basic computer architecture, data systems, logic algorithms, etc., and can now comprehend almost anything in this industry.

        Compare my experience as a late teen today who's experience with a PC is limited to knowing how to search for stuff on Google, how to navigate a PC keyboard and how to use MS Office.

        Frankly, most people don't need several years' tuition to learn how to use Office - it's something that can be covered in a couple of weeks' worth of lessons.

        But we should be raising a whole army of teenagers who know what is going on inside their computers and phones and the joys of creating devices, peripherals, apps, sites, games and services. If not, this industry is going to hit a wall in 10 years' time.
        bitcrazed
      • RE: 'Boring' IT classes face being axed

        @Rick_Kl
        Are you upset because I'm right?
        Loverock Davidson-
      • RE: 'Boring' IT classes face being axed

        @bitcrazed my whole rational is: tools can and will change. I remember when Word Perfect was the most common Word processing app. Then came MS Word, who knows what the next one will be. The Idea is not to have the children locked into any one package, so theyre not left flat-footed when the next shift happens. I remember using an old Apple ][+, an Atari 800, and a commodore PET.

        Loverock Davidson- My point is still valid. The adults are having a conversation. You might need to get a ride to your minimum wage job preparing fast food.
        Rick_Kl
      • RE: 'Boring' IT classes face being axed

        @charlieosborne Rick_Kl is onto something, but they need to learn the principles behind software.

        I think there needs to be 2 courses, one on "using business software", basically what ICT seems to be, but more in depth, and a Computer Science course, for those that are interested in how computers work and how to program them.

        The "using" should be removed from reliance on specific software and OSes, as Rick says. They should be exposed to a variety of packages, but at the same time, they should be taught the basic principles behind the different types of application.

        I've met a lot of people who have "learnt" MS Office, using 2003, but they are completely lost on OpenOffice, Office 2007 or Office 2010. They haven't learnt how a word processor works and how they should create a document, they have learnt specific menu options parrot fashion, which is totally useless. They need to understand FIRST, WHAT they are trying to accomplish, NOT HOW they accomplish a specific effect in a specific package. For example, defining styles and how to use them, most people I meet haven't a clue and think styles are a waste of time, then waste huge amounts of time trying to reformat each paragraph of a document. If they had been taught about styles, tabs, fonts etc. in the abstract, they would have a much better understanding of how a word processor works and how they can more effectively generate document templates to speed up their work. The same goes for the rest of the office suite; learn how they work, not which buttons to press. That will make them more adaptable and less reliant upon specific versions of specific applications.

        When I was at school, we were taught about how processors work, how memory works, how tape and disk work. We were taught to write our own software, in either BASIC or CESIL (Computer Education in Schools Introductory Language), with a CESIL interpreter for the CBM Pets that we had back then (plus one BBC Micro).

        The thoery side of the CS course was very important, learning how processors work and how they are optimised. This is something that most younger programmers I meet have no idea about. They know how to write pretty code, but they don't know how to optimise it for the platform they are writing it for.

        On an e-commerce website I briefly worked on, optimising the PHP code and database queries brought big changes to the performance. The devs had done a good job of hanging a custom B2C system together, it looked great and it worked - until it received load, after a PayPal newsletter, the db admin would have to kill and restart MySQL every 30 seconds or so, because it was collapsing under the strain. Likewise, the response times on the PHP side were also dire under load.

        With a 4 server load balanced system and 1 database server, the system would collapse with 50 users per node.

        After explaining optimisation techniques for PHP, then tackling the bigger queries, we go the response times down from over a minute under load to under 1 second and each server could handle a couple of hundred users without buckling under the pressure and the database load was down to acceptable.

        They didn't need to throw any more hardware at the problem, they just needed to understand about code optimisation techniques.

        With the increase in the power of computers, especially for single users, these techniques have been lost, because you can't generally tell the difference on a singe user system and you can always throw more hardware at the problem. With the move to the cloud, this optimisation is going to become increasingly important, again, as we strive to service as many users as possible with the least amount of hardware, to make the services competitive.

        The knowledge that the current generation has lost, due to ever increasing computer power, needs to be recaptured.
        wright_is
      • RE: 'Boring' IT classes face being axed

        @wright_is My current notebook is more powerful that a half a room sized mainframe from 15 years ago. from a 1200 pound machine to more power in a 5.5 pound portable, that I an throw in a backpack. Hell my cellphone has more computing power than the Apollo spacecraft. The tools will change, so people will have to learn to adapt to new tools. As much as its a royal PITA, I still gdet calls rom friends struggling with Office 2007/2010. Seems the ribbon interface is an awful big change from the previous system. After learning how to use one, and becoming proficient with thee structure of the app, having to learn a new pattern to achieve the same results baffles some people. S earning the why behind it makes sense, as does learnt multiple different packages, as not every employer is going to use the exact same setup.
        Rick_Kl
      • RE: 'Boring' IT classes face being axed

        @Rick_Ki Even though hardware is more powerful today than 10, 20 or 30 years ago, doesn't mean that we should ignore the principles of writing good code.

        We expect the machines to do more than they did 30 years ago. Plus, a mini computer 30 years ago could comfortably run multiple applications for several hundred users in a few megabytes of RAM, try to get Windows 7 to boot in under 64MB RAM! ;-)

        As I said above, we need to relearn optimisation of code, because we have a whole generation that is growing up without this knowledge and they are throwing more and more hardware at the problem, which is a finite resource, expensive and wasteful. Instead, if they learnt how to optimise the code, they could do more with less hardware than they currently have (or cater for more users, in the case of websites and cloud services).

        I encountered a similar problem, when 16-bit personal computers exploded onto the market. I got to see the source code for a couple of games. One in particular showed how people thought about the extra power and memory of the new machines: one game had a C64 and an Amiga version. The C64 code fit inside the 64KB, used tight delay loops and was a very well written piece of assembler. The Amiga code, on the other hand, showed what a programmer could do with an editor and an 8 times as much memory - the delay "loop" had disappeared, replaced by thousands of lines of "NOP" instructions (no output, do nothing), and the code jumped ever later into the pages of NOPs, as it needed to reduce the delay!

        4 lines of Assembler on the C64 were replaced by over 20,000 lines of code on the Amiga, "just because they could".
        wright_is
  • RE: 'Boring' IT classes face being axed

    I'd like it if you could teach them how software works instead of how to use it. There are far too many people that still don't have a clue about how the computer and software actually works, even young people. Yes, the young people can probably mash out text messages at a rapid pace but they still don't have a clue how anything behind the screen/keyboard works. Just using the technology doesn't mean you know how it actually works and what to do when it doesn't do what it is supposed to do. One of the most common, and annoying, things to watch is people using task manager to kill a program that is trying to access a file on the network. The program isn't the problem, the network is, but they keep killing off the process, restarting it, over and over again. Even see people re-install the software ... all the while the problem was an issue with the network drive they were trying to access. When the network stops having a problem all of a sudden they declare it a mystery ... that the program just started working on its own.

    I let them suffer if they don't have a mind capable of analyzing the situation and looking at all factors. Granted, I'm not in IT so it isn't my job to fix such things.
    Ididar
    • RE: 'Boring' IT classes face being axed

      @Ididar lol I almost spit coke all over my keys reading that. You have earned a handshake for giving me a good laugh. There are too many ignorant users, and that goes for all OSes. If they are killing a task Program trying to access a network drive, then there is a serious issue. I would be on the phone with IT after the first try. In all reality it could be something simple : Power or NIC related, or something scary:virus/security related. But getting IT involved ASAP is the prudent thing to do.
      Rick_Kl
  • Yep, teach them to drive an automatic

    And they're LOST when you give them a clutch.
    Ridiculous. And, who's to change the oil, or the tire?
    Teach 'em to drive ANYTHING not just one car.. and teach them to fix it first!
    Same with computers. Who needs MS office anyway, when LibreOffice is just as good?
    janitorman