Computing education: we already know about it!

By Naoko Asano Enomoto

Computing Education today: Is it boring? Why?

Have you experienced computing lessons during your school days? Did you like those lessons? British kids these days “No” to their computing lessons in schools–Although British school takes pride in having more computers per students among the European countries, their computing lessons have been viewed as “highly unsatisfactory”.  In fact, a post from the Guardian on Jan.13, 2012 began with voices of children:

We are taught how to save documents and search for simple information, but we are on the Internet at home and do most of our homework on the computer so we know how to do that. So IT lessons are kind of boring and we all really want to say to the teachers that we already know what we’re being taught. I wish we could learn how to do graphics, how to make a game or how to use Facebook safely – then we’d feel like we were actually learning something useful. I want to be a dancer or an actress when I’m older, so I’d like to learn how to look up videos to help me with my acting. (Comment by Ellie Magee, 12, Rivington and Blackrod high school, Bolton, Lancashire)

The gap between the existing computing curriculum and what children already known about ICTs raises very important issue for ICTs in education: how to upgrade lessons in tandem with rapid technological improvements and unprecedented usage in homes as well as schools and offices. In thinking about the wide spread use of ICTs in developing countries, this is not the topic limited to classrooms in “developed countries”.

Two positions for ICT curriculum reform: how to invent vs. how to use it

Along with the issue of reforming computing lessons in British school, there is an interesting debate. I will introduce each position comparing the article from The Guardian and The Forbes.

One position is coming from Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google Inc. According to the Guardian’s article, he believes that computing lessons should teach children how to code rather than how to use computers. He says, “Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it’s made. That is just throwing away your great computer heritage.” Great computer heritage here refers to  his perception that the UK is home to many media-related inventions, such as photography, TV and computers [1].

Contrary, Tim Worstall of the Forbes found that Schmidt’s view of computing lessons “entirely misses the point about computing education.” He insists that while Schmidt claims the basics of coding should lead to economic growth of British economy, it is not coming from “invention of new things”.  Rather,  “the use of those inventions to either do old things more efficiently or to do entirely new things”.  In addition, he thinks not everyone is interested in inventing new things.

How to respond the voices of children: “boring”

© Studiopaula | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Studiopaula | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Although two positions differ in how they see the contents of computing education, both of them pay attention to the positive impact that computing education could make on the British economy. Also, both of them strive to address the most effective way to increase human capital, trusting a causal relationship between education and economic growth unconditionally. In both positions, the goal of education is viewed as producing economic benefits.

Of course, economic impact can be a part of the natural consequences of education. However, as we know, this does not necessarily mean that economic effects area the only consequence of education. As Bartlett (2008) illustrated through her ethnographic research at Freireian schools, the ways education can contribute or shape society should be understood with greater flexibility. In this regard, the two arguments may understate voices of children who claim the class is, “boring”, like Ellie Magee I cited above. As Worstal of the Forbes states, not everyone is interested in how to code.  However it is also true that not everyone sees the economic benefits of computing education based on software. Therefore, the new ICTs curriculum should enable children to choose among various options. These could include innovative projects that lead to inventing new things, or exploring how to utilize cloud computing. It may be purely enjoying new educational experiences through online education opportunities (please refer my previous post!). In advocating for the enhancement of children’s choices, one solution may be to provide them computer basics, as Schmit says, that can serve as an appropriate foundation for children to explore choices on their own, keeping up with rapid progress of new technologies at their own pace.

We should not forget that whether we think basic computing or coding is the way to increase human capital or employability, the aim to increase one’s capabilities should be at the core of computer education.   In this regard, we should pay attention to the various new efforts from grass roots initiatives. For example, Manchester Girl Geeks, which teach children especially girls the joy of various elements of computing and tell them computing is related to their day-to-day life and not “boring”.

Sources and Footnotes

Bartlett, L. (2008). Literacy’s verb: Exploring what literacy is and what literacy does. International Journal of Educational Development, 28(6), 737-753. doi:10.1016/j.ijedudev.2007.09.002

Computer lessons are out of date, admits government, in the guardian on Nov.28, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/nov/28/computer-lessons-out-of-date

Daily Report: Online Learning, Through the Khan Academy, on Dec.5, 2011, http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/05/daily-report-online-learning-through-the-khan-academy/?scp=3&sq=Khan%20Academy&st=cse

Google’s Eric Schmidt: Entirely Missing the Point on Computer Education in the Forbes on April.8, 2012, http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2012/04/08/googles-eric-schmidt/

ICT lessons in schools are ‘highly unsatisfactory’, says Royal Society in The Guardian on  Jan.13, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/jan/13/ict-lessons-uk-schools-unsatisfactory?newsfeed=true

ICT at school is boring, children say in the guardian on Jan.13, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/jan/09/children-computer-lessons

Why we need to bring creativity and technology back together across the curriculum in the guardian on Mar.21, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2012/mar/21/creativity-technology-classroom-teaching

[1] Google’s Eric Schmidt criticises education in the UK in BBC on Aug.26, 2011 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14683133

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Posted on April 17, 2012, in ICTs and Formal Education. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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