The British Government has announced it intends to change the way that IT is taught in schools (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16493929).   They want to change the emphasis away from teaching children how to use software packages, and to include elements of programming and software development.

This made me think back to the way IT was taught when I was in school and later at university.  Bear with me – this was back in the late ’80s when IT was still a new subject.  I can’t speak about the current IT provision in schools, but looking back at my own education and experience in the world of work I can see some important themes that I think need to be included in any change in the way IT is taught.

Open to all – when I was at school, IT was only on offer to those who were in the top set for mathematics.  Whilst I can see the thinking behind this, there’s a danger that some pupils with an aptitude for IT who aren’t so strong at maths may be left out.  I know access to IT in schools is much greater now than 20-odd years ago, but it  needs to not be seen as a niche subject.

Quality of teaching – possibly the most important element.  I remember my first lesson of my Computer Studies “A” Level (where I was the only student).  My teacher starting with “well you’ve not learnt this, and I’ve never taught it” didn’t fill me with much confidence.  Good, knowledgeable, enthusiastic teachers are invaluable in any subject, and very much so here if pupils are to not only learn but develop an enthusiasm for the subject.  There’s also the challenge of keeping the subject matter up-to-date, but a lot of the basics haven’t changed.

Teamwork – one of the best parts of my Software Engineering degree was a team project.  We had to work in a team of four to develop different aspects of a “Windows” type operating system.  This taught us not only about working as a team, but also about the importance of writing modular software that could interface with other software systems written by others.

I think broadly the announcement is good news.  There’s little mileage in just teaching kids how to use PowerPoint or Excel (although there’s no denying these are useful skills).  I think pupils should be challenged and taught to develop software in a collaborative way – this can only benefit both them and the business they will go on to create or work for in the future.

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