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Time to wake up to technology

Published: 
Sunday, March 25, 2018

Burning Glass Technologies in Boston filters data from online job advertisements to classify emerging combinations of skill that hybrid jobs are competing for globally. In the US, 49 per cent of the postings in the quartile of occupations with the highest salaries are for jobs that require coding. Coding is now requisite far beyond the technology sector. In the past five years, data visualisation skills have shot up by 2,574 per cent and the demand for data analysts has grown by 372 per cent. In 2012 UK Education Secretary Gove declared that the curriculum for ICT would no longer be micro-managed from Whitehall—the UKs civil service. The ICT curriculum was scrapped, giving schools autonomy to create their own “open source” syllabus and new high-quality Computer Science GCSEs with leading employers, industry, and academics. Peter Barron, Google’s UK director of external relations, who steps down this month, said that too few UK students have had the opportunity to study authentic computer science; culminating in a workforce that lacks the key skills required to drive England’s economic growth By taking away what is prescriptive, it would allow the teacher and student to develop the curriculum conjointly and make it effective, creative, and thoughtful. The British Computer Society (BCS) and ICT professional association ‘Naace’ both agreed that the existing programme of study was dull, unsatisfactory, harmful, boring, and irrelevant. Eric Schmidt from Google, now an MIT Innovation Fellow, lamented in 2012 that the existing curriculum did not prepare students to work at the forefront of technological change. Gove declared that children were bored out of their minds at school being taught how to use Word and Excel. By 16 they should have an understanding of formal logic and be writing code for their own Apps. Richard Allan, the then Director of Policy at Facebook, recounted that Facebook had recently worked with ‘Apps for Good’, ‘A4e’ and ‘Techlightenment’ to develop a course that empowered learners to write code and create Apps. Gove believed that by removing Whitehall, schools were free to become innovative and relevant and that the benefits would spill over to individuals and employers. IBM and Microsoft worked on a pilot GCSE curriculum. The BCS developed a curriculum for key stages three and four—the years leading up to GCSE—with inputs from Microsoft, Google and the University of Cambridge. Gove argued that the traditional approach would have been to keep the programme of study in place for the next four years and assemble a panel of experts to write a new ICT curriculum and spend a fortune on new teacher training and engage with examinations syndicates to write new ICT GCSEs that would become obsolete instantly. He said—’We will not be doing that!’ Despite the creative disruption, the new GCSE in computer science failed to charm students. How does ‘code’ help someone to become a doctor? Today doctors have quit medicine to work in medical health start-ups like RockHeal+h, figure1 and Doximity. As it stands, the BCS has warned that the number of pupils studying for a computing qualification could be halved by 2020—which would be a disaster for the economy. ‘Cool-Stuff’ such as cyber security and techniques to rid computers of worms, Trojans, and bots are not yet part of the ‘recoded’ open source curriculum. Additionally, teachers are now required to teach new bits with very little rebooting in the workplace using MOOCs like Pluralsight and General Assembly allowing them to acquire stackable credentials in the workplace. Ultimately, the Royal Society intervened in 2017. They concluded that teachers need unhindered professional development opportunities and that pedagogies for computing remained underdeveloped. Gove knows, that it is hard to fail—but it is worse, never to have tried. The digital economy permeates all aspects of society, including the way people interact, the economic landscape, scientific research and breakthroughs, economic growth, skills to get a job, improving how we live, and even political outcomes. Efforts to write the new ‘open source’ ICT curriculum have stumbled upon ways that don’t work, but it has not failed. If we don’t wake up in time—we will find that we have been left behind on Earth.

Dr Fazal Ali

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