Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Computing in schools… a national crisis in waiting.



I’m just a working-class lass from East Leeds. I’ve had the same tough life as most of the people in my area. It is always easier to conform to what society expects – steady job, marriage, children, mortgage… I am such a disappointment to many – lost my job through illness (because it’s my fault, right?), divorced, single mother and how dare I leave my class behind to become an author and PhD student… yes this was said to me! I’ve been called a traitor to my class. It’s all so laughable when people realise why I am so passionate about this research and especially when they understand the heart of everything I do is my belief in socialism and equality, using my skills and philosophies to bring hope and opportunities for our future generations. It is not just politicians who make a difference. I don’t want a life in front line politics. I’m far too sensitive, far too caring and can not abide having to lower my principles to appease a political party.

I know my future life is in writing and meaningful research. PhD’s are not exclusive to elitism as it has been suggested to me. PhD study should absolutely be available to working class people like me who have first-hand experience of the obstacles faced by our children and future generations.

How many articles have there been recently telling us robots are going to take all our jobs? Yet, our children are being systematically let down by our Governments over the education provision of ICT and Computer Science. This is especially prevalent in areas like mine. The changes to incorporate ICT into lessons developed skills for use in industry but did not address the changing job opportunities within the technology industries. It was boring and uninspiring, very often reduced to merely how to use Microsoft packages. Computing/ Computer Science and ICT should never be boring. ICT was replaced with Computer Science in 2016 but this was ill thought out, introduced with no additional investment, leaving many of our young adults unable to access any digital, computing skills which, potentially, is a national crisis in waiting. These changes looked great on paper but have been poorly executed.

I was told at fifteen, I was not smart enough to study Computer Science but too clever to study typing qualifications. Yet, during my twenty-year career in the Insurance industry, I had to teach myself both skills. My concern is… how do we know young people are not being written off when given the opportunity, they have the potential to be leaders in these fields? We do not credit our young people with initiative; this comes from the draconian, authoritarian exam and results driven system we have in place now.

There are some amazing initiatives available to schools, but these are sporadic and costly; very much a post code or establishment lottery…even an individual teacher lottery. Some have said they will not implement the new curricula and with the withdrawal of all ICT, this would leave NO pupils receiving any computing study at examination level. The new Computer science curricula is heavily weighted to software programming at the expense of other skills and areas of the IT industry and other industries reliant on ICT. It does not allow for flexibility to reflect the constant technological advances.

Instead of enforcing Computer Science being taught using traditional methods… a square peg in a round hole scenario under current education provision, we need a national, coordinated strategy with a commitment to ensure ALL children have the necessary skills to succeed in the developing digital world, not just the ICT industry.

Current education practice and policy is not providing an environment to develop the seven skills, identified by the OECD and UNESCO, our children will need to flourish in the changing world:

1.    Critical thinking and problem solving

2.    Collaboration across networks and leading by influence

3.    Agility and adaptability

4.    Initiative and entrepreneurialism

5.    Effective oral and written communication

6.    Accessing and analysing information

7.    Curiosity and imagination

Ironically, these skills form the essence of computer science learning yet are stifled by the current practise and policies. A new way of teaching and learning requires urgent development, incorporating these key skills, flexibility, adaptability and FUN!

My PhD study initial title is:

Computer Science requires a new flexible, pedagogical approach in Secondary Schools in England to improve the engagement of young people from all backgrounds.

My study will investigate how we can deliver computing and ICT in a way to maximise our
My MSc IT initial study 
young people’s exposure to every aspect of computing. I would like to develop a modular system that provides a choice of skills and allows for different levels of learning from basic to advanced, so if you are not a Maths genius but brilliant at design, you can still develop your digital skills. Likewise, if your interest is in engineering, there should be options for this too.  Restricting only the students in the top 2 sets at  Maths to take GCSE Computer Science is not acceptable. It's lazy because we should adapt learning to increase participation.You do not have to be a mathematical genius to be a coder!!You don’t. I am not but I can code in html, php with MySQL, Python, Javascript, AJAX and I am confident enough to look and learn other languages as required. It is a matter of confidence! Little old me… if this Yorkshire lass can… we all can.

I feel incredibly honoured and humbled to have the backing of the university and will work tremendously hard to deliver the research and hopefully, make my small contribution to the future of our young people. In addition, there would be capacity for these modules and qualifications to be made available to retrain adults as pert of a lifelong learning programme.

I do need to look for funding to help me through my study… unfortunately I can’t get research council funding to study at my local university which is necessary as I am a single Mum with Meniere’s. 




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