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First Impressions on Dropping ICT/Gaining Programming

Dropping the old ICT curriculum with it’s much maligned emphasis on M$ Office is a brave move by education minister Michael Gove. It could be argued that from purely a learning point of view this one action is more important than any of the recent decisions on increasing education cost. Sending children back to where it all began – the formulation of grammars and statements thereof into machine-readable instructions that produce new computing tasks rather than just learn old ones by rote – is in many ways fundamental to getting a British engineering discipline back on track.

But it’s easy to get carried away here. The gaming industry has long had luminaries making the case for radical change to computing education. But it isn’t as simple as replacing building a spreadsheet with building a bouncing red ball. Spreadsheets may be boring but real world spreadsheet skills are one of the most essential skills in office jobs of all hues in the world today. Replacing that with an app that does something ‘cool’ is not what ICT is about either.

Reducing things to the bare minimum, programming has two innate parts – the design process and the act of realising this design in code. To design effectively, a student must be aware of what has gone before them, whether to use as building blocks or to pick holes, improve and iterate. How many people would be familiar with Excel prior to their job if they didn’t use it at school? Similarly how do we expect programmers to create something better if they have not experienced what went before?

Purely dropping perceivably boring essentials is not the answer – it’s akin to removing addition from maths or spelling from English – but we do need a better balance between application and creation. Far from being opposite ends of the spectrum, both must go hand in hand to rebuild our design culture.

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