Promoting Computer Skills in the Classroom

When I was young, computer technology wasn’t really taught properly in schools.  There were many problems but one of the most fundamental was there was no-one able to teach the subject.  Computer classes were usually ended up the responsibility of the maths teacher presumably because that was the closest subject  they could find.   There was little chance of learning much, when your teacher knows slightly less about the subject that you do.

Certainly  there was little hope of learning any real computer skills, but at least we got the chance of some exposure at a subject that was very, very new (yes I am that old!).  It wasn’t until Advanced level that I actually learnt anything about computers within the education system but by  that time most of us had learnt plenty from computer clubs and magazines.  In fact you’ll probably find that most older people in IT are largely self-taught, it was the only real way to learn.

In the UK even now some 30 years later there is a problem with the way which our schools teach computer technology.  In my son’s school for example a moderately successful comprehensive, there is not a single teacher capable of teaching any level of computer programming.  Just like many years ago the ICT curriculum is dominated by word processing, DTP, spreadsheets and databases.  In reality,  the latter two are largely ignored too with pupils spending hours producing simple posters, documents or graphics.  Oh and of course the dreaded – internet research skills.

There is no mention of networks, of coding or how computers actually work and communicate with each other. None of the teachers are qualified or seem to have the skills in these areas.  The skills they are taught are useful to a point but they do seem to be focussed on secretarial rather than developing real valuable computer skills with a real world value.

It’s not the teachers fault of course, if you look at the curriculum there is simply no need to teach pupils the fundamentals of programming for instance.  It’s very heavily weighted to producing posters and documents, skills that my generation just picked up as they went along.  There’s really little point spending weeks on end producing documents in order to justify an ICT slot in school.  Our children could be walking out of school at 16 with Java, Networking or HTML design skills instead they know how to type a document and make a newsletter.

I recently tried to explain to a group of kids how I was able to watch British TV online when I was on holiday using a proxy server.  None of them had even the slightest idea how these devices communicate and certainly not how a proxy could relay my connection through the UK.  If you’re missing the BBC when abroad by the way – then check this site out British TV Online.

They were interested and engaged but you could tell they had no real knowledge in the area.  The only ones who seemed to have any networking knowledge at all was those who’d spent some time getting their games to work well.  Reducing the ping, lag and latency in Call of Duty seemed to be the primary driver for learning about how networks communicate.  In some senses this is not important, the driver behind the desire for knowledge can really be anything.  If you want to speed up your gameplay or watch Match of the Day online from the US, you’ll need to learn some networking concepts.

There needs to be a real change in how we teach technology in our schools, our current approach is just not going to cut it in the modern world.  I’m sure Chinese kids won’t be walking out of school with a few posters and a basic insight in how to use Microsoft Word.