Schools’ Tech Curriculum Called ‘Boring’

That’s the headline of a Business Week article – but it’s something I’ve been talking about for, oh, three years now. The only good news is they’re helping spread word about the fact that 50% fewer kids are studying computer science than they did five years ago.

I have some suggestions that I’ve made before. Yes, I am offering solutions here at the top before presenting the article which (as people have been doing for 5 years) describes the problem.

Video games have ‘role in school’

No, parents and teachers will not like that suggestion. The data makes that point obvious. On the other hand, reality is not optional.

My conference presentation on this point from last year

Phrogram as presented at SIGGRAPH 2006

Kid’s Programming Language paper I presented at SIGGRAPH 2006

Here’s Business Week’s article describing the problem. Let’s solve it, shall we? It’s really not that hard. Computer science is fun.

June 17, 2008, 12:13PM EST
Schools’ Tech Curriculum Called ‘Boring’
Fewer and fewer kids in secondary schools choose to study computing, which threatens Britain’s tech future

by Natasha Lomas

The teaching of IT in secondary schools needs radically overhauling as it is putting kids off a career in technology, leading figures from academia and industry have warned.

The UK’s status as a world class IT nation is being threatened by a skills black hole which is getting bigger ever year as fewer and fewer kids choose to study computing.

Companies already have difficulty sourcing skilled IT staff—and government and industry bodies have warned thousands more skilled staff will be needed over the coming years to power the so called ‘knowledge economy’. But as numbers of computing students continue to drop off, the question is where is the talent going to come from?

Professor Lachlan MacKinnon, head of the school of computing and creative technologies at the University of Abertay, Dundee, has called for a radical overhauling of the curriculum in secondary schools as “boring” ICT classes which focus on Word and Excel are turning teenagers off IT as a career.

Deep technical skills are required to support the IT industry proper, which is not the same as learning the basic ICT skills that employees in all industries need nowadays, said MacKinnon.

The reality is that the IT industry needs more computing graduates than are currently being produced just to keep up with current demand—yet computer science student numbers have declined by around a quarter in the last three years so the future for UK IT looks very bleak indeed.

“We’re going to hell,” he warned. “It’s not a good place to be.”

Karen Price, CEO of tech industry skills body e-skills UK, also called for a radical overhaul of the curriculum in schools, warning: “The current curriculum is having an extremely negative impact on young people’s attitudes to IT.”

Price pointed out there’s been a 50 per cent drop in applications to computer science degrees over the last five years. “Young people are not choosing to study [computer sciences]. We’re sitting on a time-bomb, quite frankly,” she said.

According to Price, an A-level in computing is not a prerequisite for a single university computer science degree and she said this shows how little value is placed on secondary school IT qualifications.

Moreover, despite being vital to drive the UK’s knowledge economy, computing is not classed as a Stem subject (science, technology, engineering, maths), said MacKinnon, meaning higher education funding has been significantly cut back—to the tune of £100m in recent years.

Nor is IT eligible for SIV status (aka a strategically important and vulnerable subject) and the government support that would bring.

MacKinnon warned: “Without significant intervention higher education cannot meet growth targets [for the IT industry].” He called on the government to provide tax breaks and partner-with-industry to encourage internships and graduate entry schemes to get young talent into IT and help others transfer across from different industries.

The offshoring of entry level IT jobs has exacerbated the skills shortage by making it increasingly difficult for IT workers to gain the necessary experience to boost their skill level, he added. “Because we are not employing at entry level offshoring will kill our industry stone dead,” he warned.


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