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Why is Mathematics A Level preferred over Computing at uni

Discussion in 'Computing and ICT' started by ictLad, Feb 7, 2011.

  1. ictLad

    ictLad New commenter

    I love my subject, as I am sure most people here do, but it really annoys me that if you want to go and do a Computing degree, a lot of uni's (esp the Russell group ones, a point solidified by their recent 'guide'), prefer you to have mathematics. I guess what annoys me is that
    a) My own lack of understanding as to why and
    b) If this is the case then why hasnt the A Level been 'modified' so that is becomes more relevant
    Anyone able to help fill the gaps in my knowledge?
     
  2. ictLad

    ictLad New commenter

    I love my subject, as I am sure most people here do, but it really annoys me that if you want to go and do a Computing degree, a lot of uni's (esp the Russell group ones, a point solidified by their recent 'guide'), prefer you to have mathematics. I guess what annoys me is that
    a) My own lack of understanding as to why and
    b) If this is the case then why hasnt the A Level been 'modified' so that is becomes more relevant
    Anyone able to help fill the gaps in my knowledge?
     
  3. 1) Programming etc is 'taught' from scratch in university, which reduces the importance of prior knowledge. Computing isn't unique in this regard. It's also true of other subjects such as economics.
    2) Only 0.6% of students take A-level computing, so it's never likely to feature on entrance requirements.
    3) Most Computing courses involve maths. GCSE maths is very simple, hence they would like you to have it to A-level standard

    A pet theory of mine is re-branding Computing as "Computer Science" would do us a favour as the terms Computing and ICT are interchangable in the media.
     
  4. JaquesJaquesLiverot

    JaquesJaquesLiverot Established commenter

    This isn't a new thing - I was advised against doing A level Computer Studies in 1985 on the grounds that universities preferred Maths.
    The reason could be because they like to start from scratch, don't want students picking up bad habits, or because they use different programming languages, etc. They also take a more theoretical approach - our pre-course reading was about grammar, EBNF, etc., before we actually started the programming (although programming was a hobby in the 80s, so most of us were competent programmers before we started).
    Probably the real reason is that Computer Science IS Maths - certainly it was at Warwick. You needed a B in Maths to get on the course, and it was still heaving going. Don't forget that Computer Science isn't really about programming - it's more about the efficiency of algorithms and coding, logic, neural networks, networking, etc. I think we only did two compulsory programming modules in three years.
     
  5. ictLad

    ictLad New commenter

    Dont get me wrong, I do understand that you need to be comfortable with your maths to be halfway decent at Computing, but what I dont get is why the uni's dont trust the learning at A Level for Computing. Personally I feel very comfortable with teaching a language to my pupils and ensuring they understand the importance of logic and syntax etc, they are also well aware that maths is a key part of computing and I put in some important things like discrete mathematics, ebnf, OSI 7 layer model etc etc. Please dont think I am being arrogant here, im just trying to say that I am comfortable and flexible with my subject to roll with any ammendments/additions to the course if needed.
    Why is it that uni's prefer maths students? Are the A Level syllabi that rubbish? Dont get me wrong they could be better, but ive seen other subject's syllabi and they are rarely amazing? Who should be making things more applicable if they are not already? Guessing the examination boards, don't they liase with uni's to ensure the right knowledge is being taught as a precursor to a uni course? So many questions
     
  6. The AQA DID liase with the universities which is why stuff such as intactable problems, big 'O' notation and Backus-Naur are on the syllabus.
    Universities can't make A-level Computing a pre-requiste because as Vimes has said too few candidates do it. Also many (but not all) Computer Science courses are very mathematical and the level of Maths required could not be covered in A-level Computing without it basically becoming A-level Maths.
    Incidently, one of my students from last year has told me that the first term of his Maths and Computer Science at Sheffield has just been a rehash of what he did in A-level Computing and Further Maths. He hadn't really learnt anything new.
     
  7. ictLad

    ictLad New commenter

    Okay so if that is the case then if what you are saying is true there is no need for Computing A Level to exist? If a uni will say to a candidate, its ok that you dont have a computing a level because you have a maths one then whats the point in a computing a level? Im not saying this is actually what you believe, just taking your statement down a particular path.

    I guess what would be really good is that the skills taught in computing a level become so important that it does become a pre requisite. And here is another question I guess, if not enough people take Computing A Level for it to become a pre req for a similar uni course then how do we get more people to take the A Level, one answer (though not the only one) would be to have uni's make it a pre req, then if you are interested in doing it at uni you'll need it at A Level.
     
  8. If you only think of A-levels in terms of entry to university then there probably is no reason for A-level Computing to exist. It's not alone - the same reasoning can be used to say there is no need for A-levels in Law, History, Psychology, Sociology, Economics, and so on. Students don't just do a subject because they need it to get into university, some do the subject because they are interested in it.
    A-level Computing gives the students the opportunity to "try before they buy". If they don't like the subject at A-level there is litte point in paying £9000 a year to study it at university.
    Students generally need 4 AS-levels and 3 A-levels to get into university. Having Computing as one of those options will certainly not do them any harm and may prove beneficial. I have had students go on to a wide variety of degrees at various Russell group universities including Oxbridge. Both Oxford and Cambridge, for example, list Computing as useful when applying to do Computer Science.
    I would be great if universties made Computing a pre-requistite but, unfortunately, it is highly unlikely to happen. One thing to note - an admissions tutor told me that she had noticed that the drop out rate from Computer Science degrees was lower amongst students who had done the A-level - now there's a surprise.
     
  9. It would be nice for them to say something to the tune of "Having A Level Computing would be an advantage". You won't get any higher than that 0.6% taking Computing without there being a reason too.

    My opinion, it's a damn good A Level. Much better than OCR L3, Applied ICT, ICT.
     
  10. ictLad

    ictLad New commenter

    I hear you, compared to ICT it is a much harder A Level which I think teaches a much better skill set applicable to a great variety of scenarios.
     
  11. Array Stacks, BNF, Bitwise operations vs Excel, creating a web page about life in the "information age"
    Transfer Protocols and OSI model vs star networks and system lifecycle.
    There's just no comparison really is there...
    I've taught OCR ICT (dry), AQA Applied ICT, OCR Nationals L3, BTEC and 2 exam boards of A Level Computing. By far the hardest, most rewarding, most technical and most likely to push students is the A Level Computing. On the flipside, it's the one with the worst grades year-on-year. I can see why many schools go for the "easy" option, but cannot see why Computing is held up there as a preferred subject.
     
  12. It's horses for courses - you have to guide the right sort of students towards Computing. Usually our A-level Computing results are good - better than Maths and ICT most years. When we recruit we say that they should have an aptitude for Maths and Science subjects - we don't care what they get in ICT of any description because it's largely irrelevant. This actually attracts some good students. Unfortunately, we can't actually chose who to let on the course so we still get some that are clearly unsuitable - one this year with a C in GCSE Maths, C in core Science and D in additional Science and doing Computing along with Film studies and Photography??!! He's struggling!
     
  13. ...as expected and a real shame. The point I was hoping to make was giving Computing preferred subject status - or even further facilitating subject status such as:

    <font color="black" size="2" face="Tahoma">Further Maths</font>
    English
    Physics
    Biology
    Chemistry
    Geography
    History
    French
    German
    Would really give the type of candidate we'd recruit a huge lift, and also let students see a point in doing what is a high value course compared to the current ICT. You just have to look at the "What you can do next" - A Level ICT generally preps for middle management, Computing for higher...

     
  14. What a ridiculous sweeping statement with no supporting evidence whatsoever.
    One suspects quite the opposite is true.

     
  15. Perhaps the problem with A Level Computing is that it's poorly taught by too many teachers, who just can't teach good programming skills. Trying to undo bad habits at uni must be hard. As to why numbers of pupils wanting to take it at A Level are so low, that's easy. ICT qualifications are soooo boring it puts pupils off. The new gcse courses are pretty dry and the coursework makes you want to have a labotomy.
     
  16. colwynexile

    colwynexile Occasional commenter

    Well, to quote the relevant Edexcel Applied ICT A Level syllabus section;
    "(the next steps are).. A BTEC HNC in Computing, A BTEC Foundation Degree in Computing, A degree in Computing, IT, or related fields, OR entry into any employment"
    So no talk of middle management here, or even being userped by A Level computing students to the higher levels of management. Now where can we stick that broom so they can brush the floor whilst doing their job?
     
  17. <font size="2">I've heard this "bad habits from school" thing before. Could anyone enlighten me as to what these bad habits might be? My experience of learning programming at university was sitting in lecture theatres with hundreds of other students and then doing most of my actual learning in the computer labs from my mates and older students. In so far as I had some prior self taught programming knowledge I felt I had an advantage relative to complete novices. </font><font size="2">In contrast to university lecturing, I actually teach students in the way that you as a teacher can do in a small classroom setting. Seems an obviously better way to learn?</font>
     
  18. ictLad

    ictLad New commenter

    It is interesting to read some of the comments here. I have to admit my feelings towards the ICT A Level are not positive (more neutral than negative). I find it to be very boring (esp the coursework which is sooooooo tedious most of the time). As for Computing, well I really enjoy it, and I think the pupils do too. I find it really helps them logically approach all sorts of scenarions and their problem solving skills improve not just in my subject but other subjects too. I just dont get that feeling from ICT.
     
  19. What was your experience?
     

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