This year has seen a real shake up in ICT teaching. In January, at the BETT education show, we heard Michael Gove state that children are ‘bored out of their minds’ by a ‘demotivating’ and ‘dull’ ICT curriculum. He may have been focusing on secondary students, but the Primary curriculum has also hardly changed since it was first introduced in 1999, whereas technology has advanced rapidly in recent years.
Gove was responding to several sources of criticism, including: lobbying from a number of industry bodies denigrating our young people’s computing abilities; Ofsted’s findings that ICT teaching was good or outstanding in less than half of the secondary and less than two thirds of primary schools surveyed; and reports from specialist groups such as The Royal Society calling for more computing in schools and for a rebranding of key terms. The answer, Gove suggested, is to free up schools to develop their own lessons and to encourage them to focus on more creative uses of computing.
So, after a public consultation the DfE announced in June that the ICT programmes of study would be scrapped this Autumn and that there is likely to be a two year gap until they are replaced in Sept 2014, alongside the revised curriculum for other subjects. It is a myth that ICT is being removed altogether; it remains a compulsory subject for all key stages.
There is, therefore, a two-year vacuum to fill. From September 2012, schools are free to design and deliver their own ICT provision and this has stimulated a range of proposals and a renewed debate on what ICT in schools should be about. It’s not easy, however, to define a subject that, as Miles Berry notes, has a ‘dual nature as a subject to study and a tool to support study across the curriculum.’
Gove’s answer to the difficulty of redefining the curriculum is to suggest we crowd-source ideas for developing ICT through a ‘wiki curriculum’, and there is growing evidence that educators are starting to do that for themselves. The grass roots organisation Computing at School (CAS) has come up with a detailed computer science curriculum and NAACE has consulted with its members to produce a framework for Early Years, KS1 and KS2 with ‘digital wisdom’ at the centre of five areas of study. Both organisations have issued a joint statement with ITTE entitled ICT and Computer Science in UK Schools. In another example of collaboration, the Guardian has teamed up with Google to campaign for the promotion of digital literacy. Local Authorities, such as Lancashire and Wokingham, are updating and sharing their schemes of work. Chris Leach has drawn together thoughts from 28 educators on reshaping the curriculum and in June 2012 hosted a conference on Rethinking ICT, resulting in a wiki for the on-going gathering of ideas for a Programme of Study for KS2. Matt Lovegrove and colleagues have documented their efforts to redesign the Primary ICT curriculum, using Matt’s Primary ICT Teaching and Learning Framework as a starting point. Another collaborative work in progress is PeterTwining’s A4 ICT POS for key stages 1-4 available as a google doc editable by all.
The key themes emerging from these initiatives are an increased focus on giving children the chance to work creatively with code and to gain a technical understanding of computer science; an emphasis on re-presenting and re-mixing ideas and media; developing a shared understanding of what we mean by digital literacy, digital making and managing digital identities; and how to balance the core elements of the curriculum. There is also a movement away from discussion of hardware and software towards the idea of transliteracy; the capacity to read, write and interact across a range of platforms and media.
In the end, schools may prefer not to rely on a static document, but to allow a flexible and responsive ICT curriculum to evolve through tapping into professional dialogues and collaborative spaces such as these. And there will undoubtedly be opportunities for more specialists within the field.
All of these ideas are gathering momentum, but it remains to be seen whether the two-year hiatus turns out to be an opportunity or a threat for educators and their pupils; it could turn out well for those whose teachers who have a strong vision and can provide creative and inspiring experiences, but for other teachers it may be an excuse to let ICT fall by the wayside, as they wait to be told what to do next. And in our rush to demonstrate our newfound capacity to teach the basics of computer science, we risk losing sight of the way ICT can transform learning across the curriculum in the hands of an innovative teacher with a strong grasp of a range of technologies.
Miles Berry envisages a new freedom to devise ICT lessons where pupils explore their own interests through collaborative projects, communities of enquiry and challenge-based learning, ‘There’s now the chance to make ICT in primary schools much more about exploring a landscape than completing a journey, with the ICT suite much closer to a design studio than a typing pool or call centre.’ I like this suggestion that children are engaging in a problem-solving and knowledge-sharing cycle, rather than just learning skills.
In January, Gove predicted that ‘From this September, all schools will be free to use the amazing resources that already exist on the web.’ I’d like to hear your perceptions so far. Do you think that our children have returned to a radically changed ICT curriculum? Are we in the process of defining a place for digital literacy alongside reading, writing and numeracy, as The Guardian suggests? What key components would you like to see in the ICT curriculum and what should the new era focus on developing? Please add your thoughts to the answer garden below.