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The end of ICT as an academic subject – or is it?

Discussion in 'Computing and ICT' started by edulitolearn, Nov 5, 2017.

  1. edulitolearn

    edulitolearn New commenter

    GCSE and A Level ICT are now in their death throes. The conservative government, mainly in the guise of Michael Gove have killed them off. It was at the beginning of 2012 that Gove said that the existing curriculum in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) had left children "bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers". Having been an ICT teacher at the time all I can say is that I don’t recognise his criticism as being a true reflection of what was happening in the classroom. Yes, we were teaching students to use applications such as Word and Excel, as these were essential tools, not just for students, but also for the majority of working adults.

    It is a caricature of the reality that was seen in schools, where students were learning about control, programming (usually using graphical programming languages, such as Scratch), video and audio editing, scripting languages (such as html) and creating relational databases. It was a small cohort of so called “experts” who advised Mr Gove into bringing their vision to reality. This misguided group threw out the baby with the bath water.

    Wind forward nearly six years from this change and there is already ample evidence that this decision, by groups with a vested interest, was at best a misguided decision and at worse a retrograde step.

    Early this year it was ironically the British Computing Society (BCS), one of the groups who advised Mr Gove, that were showing concern that the number of students taking up a qualification in computing would likely halve by 2020. You could have asked any ICT teacher back in 2012 and they would have been able to predict this outcome. Not that the computing/ computer science curriculum is of no value, it definitely has its place as a valuable qualification, but only alongside an ICT/IT qualification.

    We now have students arriving at secondary schools from many primary schools with little knowledge of ICT. Many of them have used a tablet, but never a desktop computer or laptop. Secondary school teachers need to teach the students basic ICT skills before they move on to teaching computing, that’s if they have the time.

    GCSE ICT was always a popular choice for girls and despite money being spent on encouraging girls to choose GCSE computer science, there is little evidence that this is having any impact. So not only are fewer students choosing a “computing” qualification, even fewer of these are girls.

    It really is time to bring back GCSE ICT and A Level ICT before even more damage is done.
  2. JaquesJaquesLiverot

    JaquesJaquesLiverot Established commenter

    I have to say that I was one of the teachers who was bored teaching PowerPoint - most students I meet had learnt very little Word and I've even met year 10 students who have done no spreadsheet work - so I welcomed the new curriculum.

    Although I think Business Studies teachers are mistake when they say that programming and Computer Science aren't life skills (they're more useful to a window cleaner or refuse collector than an ability to use PowerPoint, for example), I wouldn't object to the return of GCSE ICT... as long as it was like the GCSE we had 15 years ago, when students learnt about relational databases and did proper ADITE coursework. The recent GCSE and its coursework were barely distinguishable from courses like DiDA and Nationals.
  3. tonyuk

    tonyuk Occasional commenter

    I have been saying for a long time there is a place for both. People have short memories or have not been teaching long enough. vocational existed long before CIda etc with the GNVQ.
    It is about the interest that pupils have in subjects - we have a large cohort doing computing but we equally have high ability students wanting to do a more vocational graphic course with web creation etc.
    Both have a place and I said many years ago with the Gove BETT announcement that the BCS were turkeys calling for Christmas - I wish I hadn't been proved right!
    wanet likes this.
  4. moscowbore

    moscowbore Star commenter

    Computing is dying as a subject. Schools find the cheapest possible teachers to teach it, usually not subject specialists, and then students become disinterested because of bad teaching. Most Computing teachers teach Python because that is what all of the free resources from the TES use. There are not enough Computing teachers around and there are fewer every day.
    It is possible to retrain non-subject-specialists, but that takes time and money.
    The coursework cheating is finally being "noticed" so no easy league table points any more.
    Students are spoon fed by most subjects, robbed of the ability to think for themselves so they cannot cope with even basic computational thinking problems.
    Competence in Office software should be taught in ks3 as part of an introduction to general Computing. In fact, it probably is MEANT to be taught but OFSTED ignore the fact that it is not taught at all.
    Best not to teach Computing at all in my view. Drop it and go back to teaching PowerPoint. At least then students will get some experience of using a computer for something other than games.
  5. tonyuk

    tonyuk Occasional commenter

    Agree with the previous comment up to a point. Basic use of computers is very limited - we are starting to find that pupils in year 7 have little or no experience of saving files, naming conventions, folder structures and even in some cases how to use a mouse!
    Things I suspect will change in a few years time when business starts to say that school leavers have very little idea how to use computers and their software in a professional manner.......and we will all go round again!
    wanet likes this.
  6. wanet

    wanet Star commenter

    The problem is that over time the amount of CS in the GCSE courses was so watered down, that somethig had to be done. rather than gradually reverse the trend and allow teachers to catch up, the change was more dramatic. The baby has been thrown out with the bath water. I don't think many wanted the change to be the way it was done. Keeping IT as a subject would have been better. But the campaign to get CS taught did too good a job of belittling ICT courses.

    The future will be interesting
  7. binaryhex

    binaryhex Lead commenter

    People with rose tinted glasses seem to have forgotten why ICT got flushed down the toilet with the other turds; the coursework was mind-numbing in the extreme in the GCSE and the Nationals were a disgrace, allowing any muppet to get a hugh grade with no effort.

    I'd welcome ICT back, but only if the new specification was designed by practising teachers from mainly comps, not muppet professors from university, industry experts, grammar school teachers and the highly discredited and very useless BCS.
  8. elder_cat

    elder_cat Established commenter

    I don't have a CS degree, mine was in Business Information Technology, which was aimed at producing people who could act as the 'middle-man' between the business and IT functions. They brought that in, in the hope that it would limit the damage being done by both sides, in their refusal to see the other's point of view. We've all seen it. The departmental manager makes impossible/unreasonable demands on the IT department, to produce X in the form Y. The IT manager throws the teddy bear across the room, when told this year's budget means they have to do even more, with less, and do it more effectively. Both sides have an unquestionably profound in-depth understanding of what works and what doesn't in their own area. But often, neither one appears to have bo-diddly of an idea, as to how that translates across functional boundaries within the organisation. The challenge is how to get them to accept that neither can exist in isolation, and that some degree of synergy is required, however onerous that may be.

    I taught post-16 FE Computing, the 'Computer Systems' component of which included some technical content, but not in anything like the depth at which those same topics would be covered in CS. They also did topics like Database Design and Development, and Web Design. I don't think anyone seriously expected that anything but a few of those students would actually end up being employed as Database Admins or Web Designers.

    Most of the students we got chose Computing because they did reasonably well at ICT in school, and therefore assumed they would do equally well in Computing. Some did, but others found it more challenging than they had anticipated. Some of our students went on to do computing-related subjects at Uni. Some went to to do apprenticeships with the likes of BT. I know of at least 2 who went to work in Maplins - and before you knock it, consider that at least 2 young people are not having to claim benefits, paid for from your taxes.

    In reality, the majority of our students were unlikely to enter into Computing as a career. They were simply using the Computing course as a vehicle to enable them to achieve an award, which hopefully said they had a reasonable amount going for them, in the employability stakes.

    In the world of Business, we talk about markets being driven by 'push' and 'pull' forces. 'Push' when the manufacturers tell us we need something, and 'Pull' when consumers actually demand something. With regard to the issue of whether we need an ICT curriculum running alongside a CS curriculum, or whether we actually need an ICT curriculum at all, can anyone offer a simple explanation as to who is doing the pushing, and who is doing the pulling?
  9. edulitolearn

    edulitolearn New commenter

  10. edulitolearn

    edulitolearn New commenter

    No one is saying we need the status quo, we need a new IT GCSE that adapts to our changing world and provides valuable skills and knowledge. We need a qualification that does engage boys, but more importantly has a content and structure that girls might choose.
  11. tonyuk

    tonyuk Occasional commenter

    The big problem is that to be really vocational then pupils need to do something/make something. This leads to a more course work approach and then onto some teachers giving a lot of help and feedback until the pupils get it right. Here in lies the downfall of a true vocational qualification. A good solution to me is the Cida examined idea that pupils get to do a test on their skills after learning them and then creating their final solution in examination conditions - if the examination boards could come up with a highbred of this then that would be good.
  12. JaquesJaquesLiverot

    JaquesJaquesLiverot Established commenter

    Exactly - that's why I warmed to ECDL in the end; students actually had to know that skills well enough to demonstrate them in an exam, rather than just doing something once for the coursework portfolio.

    The problem with "vocational" courses is which vocation are you talking about? Different jobs and companies require different things to be done in different ways. When employers complain about lack of ICT skills, I don't think they mean that students can't make PowerPoint presentations; they're more likely talking about an inability to design a spreadsheet, know when a database would be better, etc.

    The problem with the more "media"-type courses is that they're very software-specific - the way you do something in Fireworks isn't the same way you'd do it in GIMP or Paint.net.
  13. gigaswitch1

    gigaswitch1 Occasional commenter

    Wow. not seen this argument for a while.Have to agree with Binary, rose tinted glasses are at work. Lets remember what we had in the end, a subject that everyone made their own depending on their skills. It was a mess and the only reason everyone loves the ICT GCSE was because of the fiddle. Those old enough to teach it will remember every year the looks you used to get from other departments when the qualification residual came out.
    And lets just remember
    For a distinction in DB design you had to add a record, delete a record and change a record.
    For a distinction in web you had to use Fireworks to put a rollover on a graphic
    So lets not kid ourselves on the skills the pupils learnt about DB or webdesign, How can anyone say they want to go back to that it beyond me.

    Do you want ICT back or the easier media type courses (which in my experience girls prefer)? To me they are different and should be kept apart.
    There is a place for ICT and CS but we have to stop living the ECDL dream and be a strict subject that are the same difficulty as other subjects.
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2017
    JaquesJaquesLiverot likes this.
  14. madcat

    madcat Occasional commenter

    I've always thought that ICT as a GCSE subject was a complete waste of time. Yes, students do need a set of decent ICT skills but these could easily be taught at KS3 and some form certification would help motivation.
    I too thought that EDCL was a really good way of specificity testing skills before the P-heads jumped in a screwed it up.

    As for GCSE CS....

    For old times' sake

    You're all DOOOOOOMED
  15. needabreak

    needabreak Star commenter

    Who said that? They do not speak for all Bus/Econ teachers. Computer science, coding and ICT *as was, are very different in nature, as others have said ICT was to a great extent end user based prepping students to use rather than create software and many business/economics teachers were targeted to teach it in the absence of willing subject specialists, I refused as I too found it mind numbingly boring while not only did it provide qualifications for "coursework" that was practically written by many teachers or TA's it lead to those students qualifying for level 3 quals that they were ill equipped to study without a great deal of "help".

    Computing/ICT is clearly societies way forward in many respects and has been for decades while user end skills are necessary to access the new tech, useless? No... would I teach it/them? No. Would IT professionals teach it/them? Why would they when they can earn so much more in industry?
  16. madcat

    madcat Occasional commenter

    It always intrigues me that the UK is one of the few countries the world that actually teaches ICT/CS as a separate subject at school level.
    Students that I encounter from abroad don't seem to be any less digitally literate than out own. In fact if anything they seem to have not only a better rounded set of skills but also have a better understanding of what is possible and more eager to pick up new skills.
  17. needabreak

    needabreak Star commenter

    Perhaps that is the case here too and that is why end user ICT qualifications are less relevant now and the computing courses have been introduced, it could be natural progression reflecting both technology and social advances.
  18. theworm123

    theworm123 Lead commenter

    The intake for our three computing undergrad courses has dropped by 11.6% across the last 3 years, our internal projections estimate it will go down another 5% when the UCAS applications come back. So yep we're doomed.
  19. elder_cat

    elder_cat Established commenter

    I don't think the question is whether or not we need both ICT and CS. I think there is a place for both. The problem is in getting the necessary people to agree that they are actually two different things. In my experience, asking the question "Where exactly is the dividing line between ICT and Computing, given that they both involve the use of computers?", got you an answer which varied significantly depending on who you asked. To the 'average Joe Soap' in the street, they are probably one and the same thing.

    One way to remove that confusion would be to rename ICT as IMBU - Information Management for Business Users. We could then remove it altogether from the Computing curriculum, and integrate it into business-oriented courses. The intention then would be to allow the average end user to develop an appropriate skill-set, based on the everyday requirements of a typical SME environment.

    The range of skills, and the depth of knowledge required would increase, commensurate with the level of study, just as it has always done. So someone taking a Level 2 course, might be required to merely demonstrate they can create a simple spreadsheet or database, incorporating some 'standard' macros and menus, etc. But someone taking it at Level 3, would be expected to have a much better understanding of design constraints, and a demonstrably better use of macros, integration with other packages, and so on.

    The specific unit content, for the different levels, would be decided by whoever is seen as best representing the needs of business users.

    That would allow students to develop a range of skills, appropriate to the level at which they would be expected to operate, in a business environment.

    At the lower levels, it could conceivably be taught by Business tutors/lecturers, who should (in theory) have a better handle on how the IT is actually implemented and used within a business function, and should therefore be better informed, as to the actual content the course needs to incorporate and at what level.

    That means Computing teachers no longer having to teach something which, from their perspective as CS professionals, they see as having been 'watered down'.

    In certain circumstances, depending on the capability/confidence of the Business teaching staff available, the higher level components might have to be delivered by Computing staff, as a service on behalf of the Business department. I don't see why that should be a major problem, as they would simply be delivering the necessary skills to operate at a functional level in the business environment, and nothing more.

    But however it was delivered, it would effectively no longer be seen as part of the Computing Curriculum.

    Areas such as database design and admin, which require a more in-depth technical knowledge at a reasonably advanced level, could be delivered as discrete units in a CS context.
  20. JaquesJaquesLiverot

    JaquesJaquesLiverot Established commenter

    Yes - I remember one of my year 11 GCSE ICT students bringing her Belgian pen-friend to my class - she was amazed by how many computers we had in school as she'd never used one in her eleven years at a Belgian school.

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