It has been over a month since it was announced that the ICT curriculum faced review, and I still don’t feel like it is being done well. The overwhelming majority of press coverage, including articles where industry experts are being questioned, seems to offer only two options: keep the current curriculum, or replace it with computer science.
When the original review was released, I was concerned not by the language used – the expert panel report said the curriculum lacked coherence, not quality – but by how that would be interpreted by decision-makers in government to score some easy political capital by removing ICT (which had become something of an educational punching bag). As luck would have it, a passionate group of computing specialists had been campaigning for the reintroduction of computing to the curriculum for some time & had grown large enough to be heard. It couldn’t have been timed better for the good people of Computing At School.
Anyone who knows me will know that I am very much in favour of the reintroduction of computing to the curriculum, and like hundreds of other ICT teachers nationwide have been doing what Gove suggested as a novel & exciting idea (“we could have 11 year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch”), and more, for years. What concerns me is the way the question is being framed.
I recently discussed ‘coarsening’ of data with my A level students, whereby valuable detail is lost in the process of encoding it to fit with established norms, or to fit with desired outcomes. In framing the choice to be made as Boolean – either/or, ICT or computing – something will be lost from the curriculum, and it’ll take another decade to get it back.
There is value in content from both subjects, and a great deal of crossover between the two, which we should be embracing rather than shying away from. Gaming is often cited as one of the driving forces behind demand for competent graduate programmers, as the market has indeed exploded in recent years, however a team of competent programmers does not a good game make. Multimedia has fallen under the incoherent umbrella of ICT for some time now (at least in my schools), enabling me to teach graphic design, publishing & animation skills in ICT lessons that I would struggle to justify in a computing curriculum.
One of my year eight students presented me with a truly outstanding, multi-level Street Fighter-style game last week that had a training level where you learn the ropes, a levelling system where new skills are learnt as you progress, sound effects & multiplayer – truly testing Scratch to its limits – but the reason he came to me was he wanted the game to look better, so we set about replacing his stick men sprites with characters drawn in Photoshop, and the game is starting to feel more professional. By the time it’s finished, it will be a sight to behold, and far greater than the sum of its programming & design parts.
We should be embracing a depth & breadth of curriculum that we can better achieve through offering a combined approach to the two subjects, at least at Key Stage 3. I understand the zeal of members of the CAS movement to see their subject return to the curriculum, but fundamentally the kids will be better served by a blended approach rather than a drag & drop replacement of one subject with another.