Pressure mounts on government to support computer sciences

The pressure on the government to make changes in the way computing is taught in schools increased today with the launch of the Next Gen Skills campaign.

The Livingston Hope Skills Review back in February has seen a raft of major technology and creative firms since throwing their weight behind the cause.  Companies like Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo and Google are just some of the names involved in the campaign, headed up by Ian Livingston and Alex Hope.

Some critics in the technology community are a little worried about the lack of creativity in teaching computer skills in schools.  The problem is that students are being taught how to use existing software as part of ICT teaching – rather than understanding the mechanics of how to build.

In turn, there’s a lack of people progressing to higher education in computer programming.  The numbers of university applicants choosing computer sciences continues to drop, and this has led the likes of Google Chief Eric Schmidt to lament Britain’s decline in this field.

According to co-author of the Livingston Hope Skills Review, Alex Hope, it’s vital that there is a change in the way that computing is taught in order to support a wide variety of industries within the UK.

“It’s very useful to understand how a machine works, and why it works the fundamental operating principles f something allow you to use that tool better,” Hope said, speaking to BBC Radio 4 today.  “The tool of the last century was the last century was the pen or the pencil, the tool of the 21st century is the computer.”

In comparison, Hope said that ICT can often just be “passively pressing buttons”.

There have been other calls from within the UK to change the way computer skills are taught, with a return to the seventies and eighties heyday of school age programming.  For example, Elite creator David Braben has spoken to TechEye about his £15 PC, the Raspberry Pi, which offers a simple and fun way to teach the basics of creative programming.

There have also been calls from within government.  Department for Culture, Media and Sport Minister Ed Vaizey outlined the need for a figure to lead a resurgence in computer sciences, and was present at the launch of the Livingston Hope Skills Review earlier this year.  Universities minister David Willetts also spoke about a computer science trial that would run in a limitied number of schools across the country.

So far there hasn’t been much action from where it matters most, the Department for Education.  The Next Gen Skills campaign will further calls to put computer science back within the framework of the National Curriculum, as well as a review of ICT skills teaching.

TechEye put similar concerns to the DfE in the past couple of months and it was revealed that there will be a review of the curriculum.  It was also revealed that the Department was in talks with Microsoft.  However little, if anything, has been committed to by the Department.

The UKIE, the trade body behind the campaign launch, has indicated that there is likely to be a response from the government at some point today.

With so much pressure mounting to make changes to the education system it seems there could be little choice.