I was interviewed by a freelance journalist for a TES article recently, and was told that our LA ICT advisor was unhappy with the comment I gave on the Rose reforms. “Good ICT is very difficult to teach, and rarely gets beyond skills building, or ‘trivial pursuits’ in primary schools,” I said, annoying primary ICT coordinators everywhere with my sweeping generalisation. “Teaching students to become technology aware – knowing how and when to use it in completing a task, as well as understanding what should be trusted, what should be regarded critically and what should be avoided – are vital skills.”
I do wish I hadn’t been quite so sweeping in saying that ICT teaching in primaries “rarely” gets beyond trivial pursuits, but in my defence I’ve rarely seen it happen in the primary schools I’ve been in.
Saying that we must teach the very young how to use the technologies in existence today would have been like saying ‘adults must teach children how to program a VCR’ in the 1980s. Children are already using computers to the extent that early years teaching would take them to through nothing more than intuition & play.
I don’t want it to seem as if I don’t value ICT as a subject. I wouldn’t have chosen to teach it if I didn’t think it had merit, but elevating it to the level of literacy, and reallocating teaching time from subjects like English & maths seems wrong-minded, to me. Some of my current year sevens arrived with a better understanding of how to use a computer than how to form a sentence. How will embedding ICT in the curriculum earlier stop this from happening? How useful is ICT as a tool if you lack the linguistic skills to express yourself?
I don’t mean to sensationalise, either, but I keep seeing this “ICT is everywhere, therefore it’s an important educational subject” mentality. In presentations the members of my PGCE course gave while we were training, many said exactly this; technology is a part of the fabric of children’s lives, therefore we must teach them how to use it. This is a reactionary view, and one that doesn’t account for the fact that adults are learning to use the same technologies at the same time as children. Can we focus their use? Can we direct them into using a piece of presentation software as a framing device for a verbal presentation on a particular subject? Absolutely. Is this what we’re talking about with the Rose reforms? No.
I’m running a project with some of my key stage three classes at the moment where they have to come up with an idea for an innovation they would expect to see in the next ten years or so, and I’m being consistently impressed by the grasp of how technology works these students have. They haven’t got it from me – the scheme of work has been focused on applications rather than “bigger picture” thus far – but they are coming up with ideas like disposable digital paper (one made the argument that “because of Moore’s law, microchips powerful enough to run one of these will cost pennies in 2019, so we can sell these as disposable computers”), holographic interfaces that will register users’ movements using sensors, personal projectors that will beam whatever display is needed onto whatever surface is available (“But what if you’re standing in a field on a sunny day? You can’t beam it onto the grass can you?” “No, but you can hold out the palm of your hand.”)
These children are so acutely tuned in to current technologies, and how they work, that they’re coming up with ideas the best and brightest are working on as we speak – without looking at the myriad crib sheets Google has to offer. Our brainstorming activity took place in a standard classroom… no computers to be found.
The lessons I had to sit through as a GCSE IT student where the idea of input and output devices was laboured to excess seem a world away. They understand the idea of an interface, even if they can’t explain it well.
So shouldn’t we be focusing on giving students the tools they need to explain their ideas, rather than hammering home concepts they already understand?