The dismal state of computing education in English schools

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English: Snapshot of the Commodore PET-32 micr...

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I didn’t get my enthusiasm for computing from school – it was almost something latent: I remember being very excited to see a “microcomputer” for the first time in Brent Cross shopping centre in 1979.

But the first one I used – hopelessly – was in school, a Commodore Pet, in 1980. It turned up and a group of us – led by Physics teacher legend John Shutler – stabbed wildly at the keyboard in the hope of getting it beyond the “Ready” prompt.

There were no computing lessons in those days but there were plenty of enthusiasts for learning programming in the school. And, yes, we played games too – but games were principally a programming challenge: could we write new ones, change old ones, copy tricks from existing ones. This book – our Bible – had lots of listings but each had to be tailored for the dialect of BASIC being used.

I know this sounds like a plea for a better yesterday, but it is difficult to avoid the conclusion things have gone downhill even as schools have filled with ever more powerful machines.

Today all of that energy seems to have been drained from school computing – for my daughters it is the equivalent of a secretarial class of three decades ago – can you type a letter on a wordprocessor (always, always, Microsoft’s proprietary software), can you  type an Excel spreadsheet or create a Powerpoint presentation. I don’t think they have been taught any programming skills and certainly the link between maths and computing seems totally absent.

They are not the only ones. A new report from OFSTED, the school inspectorate, bemoans the dreadful state of computing education in our secondary schools:

  • A fifth are taught nothing, despite the subject being a compulsory part of the national curriculum;
  • Many teachers have “limited” knowledge of programming;
  • High flyers are often neglected and the students do the same tasks over and over again;
  • Qualifications are of limited use.

For what it’s worth I think much of this is because educators have been forced to dance to the tune of business – who demand school leavers can use their proprietary software suites rather than (as was the case when I entered the workplace) they provide training. The result is dismal education and disaffected pupils.

2 thoughts on “The dismal state of computing education in English schools

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