Finally, Britain’s children will be equipped for the Internet age. In a speech to the BETT education conference today, Michael Gove announced the details of the new computing curriculum, which will take effect from this September.
As well a new Computer Science GCSE and a beefed-up A-Level (hopefully more schools will offer it), the new computing curriculum will begin for five year olds, and will consist of three strands. These are information technology (how to use computers in the real world), ‘digital literacy’ (confidently and safely using computers) and ‘computer science’ strands.
The Computer Science strand is by far the most important. Since computers became significantly easier to use in the 1990s, Britain’s computing education has consisted of simply how to use the machines (in an age where watches and fridges can be considered a computer) with no understanding of how they work. For too many people, they are unfathomable black boxes.
The new curriculum will hopefully address this. Pupils will begin to learn the basics of coding at the age of five. At eight, they will be taught how to design programs to accomplish specific tasks. By eleven, they will learn how to use two programming languages to solve computational problems. As someone who didn’t learn a proper programming language till I was 18, I’m envious of how literate these pupils will be by the same age.
As well as a lack of depth, the problem with our existing IT curriculum is that it failed keep with the evolution of technology. Teachers were showing pupils how to create PowerPoint slides when they were already building their own websites. Gove has acknowledged this and has vowed to ensure the new computing curriculum will be focused on the foundations:
‘None of us can know what lies ahead – all we can do is equip ourselves, and more importantly, our children, with essential building blocks of knowledge, whether that’s mathematical principles many millennia in the making or an intricate computer code younger even than our youngest school pupils.’
The crucial element today is ensuring the teachers are competent enough to teach it. Microsoft, Google, IBM and Facebook will be offering scholarships of £25,000 to encourage graduates to teach computer science. The British Computer Society has been given £1 million from the government to train up primary school teachers. From this September, computing and computer science will finally take up the core place in the British classroom it deserves.