The fact that the current UK ICT curriculum is pants has been a much discussed topic within the tech community for a long time. It’s focussed on consumption not creation, it ignores younger children and even if I were being charitable I’d say, at its best, it is preparing our kids for the kind of jobs they might have found in the office of ten years ago.

In the last week this topic has had some limelight after Eric Schmidt’s talk at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, prompting the mainstream media to write about the subject.

Of course the big question is… what do we do about it?

Whilst its right to shout loudly about the inadequacies of the current curriculum (can we call it the ‘legacy’ curriculum?), it is the easy option. To be credible we need to propose a solution – put up, or shut up.

Earlier today I mooted on twitter that we need an open-source alternative ICT curriculum – its not an original idea by any means and I know its been talked about before. Quite rightly Emma Mulqueeny (@hubmum) responded with a “theres been talk, but whats needed, whats the first step?” challenge.

I have absolutely no experience of building a curriculum so I might be talking complete rubbish, but here are my starter-for-ten thoughts – they are unpolished and completely up for comment etc.

1 – Find the people who are at the intersection between….
  • Caring deeply about this stuff
  • Knowing what works and doesn’t work in the classroom
  • Writing a curriculum that would be credible in the eyes of whoever it is that judges whether a curriculum passes muster or not
2 – Break it down into something small

Theres no point in sitting in a room for years word-smithing an overarching curriculum (I’m guessing thats how we ended up with what we have now). I’m far more in the ‘whats the fastest experiment we can do to see if this has legs?’ camp. So I guess the question is do we take a narrow part of the curriculum and develop something for all ages… or do we take one age group and develop a fuller curriculum for that? or is there a better way to slice it?

3 – organise it like an open-source software project

In the sense of having a public repository (git-hub or similar) and a means to incorporate contributions / changes / bugfixes – I’m quite taken by the idea of a bug fix to a curriculum :)

4- find the fastest way to test out the first iteration

There are already plenty of enlightened teachers who do ‘get it’ – are they able to go ‘off-curriculum’ ? (I know thats easy for me to say and probably very difficult in practice). Would they be able to translate the objectives of the curriculum into free available lesson plans that could be more widely tried out?

5 – Learn from the above and repeat until we get it right

…Incomplete thoughts and rough round the edges I know, but is this (or a refinement of this) a workable way forward?
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6 comments until now

  1. I am very interested in the need for a new and improved ICT curriculum. The most important thing, I believe, is that it needs to be fluid and flexible enough to allow for the continual developments so that we dont end up in the same situation in another 5 / 10 years.

  2. A few questions, and thoughts.

    I agree some sort of initiative is worthwhile. However lets not lose sight of the fact that nearly all the people working today in IT didn’t learn to code at school. Whatever you might think is best, that fact will be raised at some point.

    Question 1. Why teach coding at school? There probably isn’t one best answer. Some will compare it to the discipline of learning Latin, others to the fun of building with Lego, others as preparing for the world of work. Me, I’d say because it’s fun, and doing fun things at school encourages kids to learn and has a big influence on future career choices. I’d also say do it because it’s hard, and doing hard things, failing, and trying again is an important part of growing up.

    Question 2. What do (each of) you personally want from this? This matters if you aren’t going to limit yourself to approaches that require little time and money.

    Ideas.

    Not only teachers have access to schools. This might surprise some, but with the right connections and a sensible plan you can get access to entire year groups at secondary school, and entire schools at primary for up to one day, sometimes two. In the past I’ve used this to immerse an entire year group in engineering – effectively a “hack day” where small teams of students (4 or 5) compete with each other on a challenge. This takes a lot of organising, but is a great way of introducing the whole school to new stuff.

    Top down most likely won’t work. Bottom up (planners vs searchers) is the way to go. Create a strong initiative at a few schools, spread the word.

  3. Off the cuff thoughts. Guardian did an experiment a few years back in wiki journalism, found that the piece grew without limit because its easier to add than to edit. An open source curriculum will sufffer the same fate without editors.

    Also, this is the wrong battle. You guys are looking back to your own glory days (bbc micro obsession) and trying to recreate them. If you want to enable a renaissance for the 2020s, I think you should be building this “freedom to tinker” ethic into biology, not computing. Or both, but biology is more important.

    Open source text books might be more valuable than open source curricula. Same “good editor” problem applies though.

  4. There is an organisation looking at this

    e-skills sent us this. do you know them ?

    e-skills has just launched the Behind the Screen project, and I have
    attached a document to give you some idea of how this came about and what
    we’re trying to do. As a Sector Skills Council, we’re very concerned about
    future workforce demand and how the current IT Specifications in school
    (particularly secondary) are putting students off careers in IT. So we want
    to make some radical changes to the secondary provision. Whereas ordinarily
    this has been a top-down approach – the curriculum has been imposed on
    teachers and schools – we’re trying the bottom-up approach. We want to
    create projects and other challenges for Year 9 and 10 students that can be
    piloted from September with schools we have already contacted. In addition
    we intend to create a web-based hosting portal for resources that will
    support these learners, from employers, HEI and other organisations.

  5. I don’t think now that anybody can reasonably argue that we should not be TEACH COMPUTING to all pupils in school as a basic entitlement.

    There are a number of organisations and individuals who have taken on a difficult challenge to persuade teachers, educators and government that ICT is in schools is no longer fit for purpose. (Nesta, Naace, Computing at School, Royal Society) Many practitioners have known for some time that this is true.

    It is worth acknowledging also, that not all successful programmers went down the route of A levels, and university to get to where they are – though it does help to some degree (pun?)

    A change is gonna come – and there are signs that the ground is fertile. Teachers who are interested in teaching computing can find a wealth of tried and tested resources online and networks of like minded individuals who are happy to share their experiences.

    My advice is not to wait for the curriculum to change, we already know that this is at least (in terms of ICT) two years away. Teachers should feel confident and encouraged to take some risks and see what works most effectively and then share it with colleagues.

    There have been some clear hints already from the Department for Education that there will be a ‘minimum entitlement for all’ mainly in the fields of Maths, Science, English, PE.

    If you TEACH COMPUTING, and teach it well – other teachers will beat a path to your door. It wont matter how much or how little of the national curriculum you are teaching. Are your classes full of highly motivated and engaged learners? If so, you are clearly doing something right.

  6. I strongly advise against getting involved in trying to change the Curriculum. It is highly politicised with the vested interests very well dug in. (And I speak from some personal expereince here….)

    Instead, I suggest that you try something similar to the activity that is underway in Sheffield this year:

    Blog on the original idea: http://ianibbo.me/?p=166 Test event: http://geekcadets1104-eorg.eventbrite.com/) at Sheffield Barcamp3 (http://barcampsheffield2011-eorg.eventbrite.com)
    Subsequent events: http://geekcadets1105-eorg.eventbrite.com/) and
    http://geekcadets1106.eventbrite.com/)

    It is currently on a break for the school summer holidays.

    Seems to me that you and Ian Ibbotson are on the same page.

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