Digital literacy and programming in schools becoming a priority
In a speech delivered in early January on the state of British digital literacy, Secretary of Education Michael Gove took a hard stance on redirecting the National “Informations and Computer Technologies” (ICT) curriculum toward a more flexible system incorporating computer science and programming. Based upon the revelation that neither students nor teachers are being adequately challenged by the material, the decision is supposed to increase student preparedness for a society that is increasingly dependent on digital systems and a digital economy.
As Gove said, “Almost every field of employment now depends on technology…each new technological advance has changed our world and changed us too. But there is one notable exception. Education has barely changed.” He hopes that a curriculum change will be the step toward a better prepared generation of students who are ready to innovate and create through technology and computer programming.
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt recently critiqued the state of British education, deeming it disappointing that the UK has been unable to capitalize on the major period of innovation and discovery. His statements have undoubtedly added pressure to the recent change in the ICT curriculum, which will now place Computer Science education closer to the level of key fields like Math, Science, and Language. While the new ICT technology focuses more on innovation and utilizing the strengths of creation through technology, the question that must be addressed is whether or not the skill of computer programming need be a compulsory skill for all students in the future. Based on the change in British Education, Gove would surely argue in its defense.
In 2008, it was reported that there were over one billion PCs in use globally and by 2015 it has been forecasted that that number will reach more than two billion active PCs. According to statistics released by Gartner in September 2011, 404 million PC units will be created and shipped during 2012. With a glance at these statistics, it is no question that the prevalence of computer technology is growing and here to stay. The personal computer has become integral to everyday life for many people, although it was once an innovation that many people couldn’t imagine a future for. The same phenomenon is happening yet again, as we are in the midst of another transition to the rapid emergence of tablet computing.
Facebook, which recently filed for its initial public offering started as a creation on a college campus in 2004 and now boasts over 845 million active users on its network. The social networking web site has in many ways revolutionized communication, the way people use the Internet, and even what it means to be a “friend.” The changes in ICT are meant to spur this type of innovation and exploration in the minds of British youth, and to give them the tools necessary to begin working toward creating the next Facebooks and Googles of the world.
Innovations like these have pointed to what the future can be, but those who have pioneered the way are perceived as geniuses whose work is clouded in mystery and skill. What would it take to equip more people with the skills and tools to follow in the footsteps of the innovators to begin creating the new wave of innovation? What type of progress is necessary for a global economy that is so intertwined with digital technologies and economies? What type of potential can the ability to innovate through computer programming and science unlock for sectors and industries that haven’t even begun to think about its impact yet? Britain may be one of the first nations to think about the impact of computer science during adolescence, but with these larger questions looming and a global economy looking for answers, there is bound to be more debate in the future.
The need to prepare students to become active creators of content and innovation is important as we are falling into the trap of perpetual consumption. Out of the billions of people that currently use computers, there is a small minority that actually understands how they function and are capable of so much. By no means is computing a form of magic, so it should be treated as something that everyone can approach and gain a grasp on. Not only is it necessary for personal understanding, but the global economy requires high-level skills never before seen that can only be attained with high level training. In the past, it may have taken strokes of genius to create the “next big thing” in computing, but we have the know-how and potential to disseminate this craft to more than a select few.
Gove concluded his speech with this statement, “There’s no blueprint to follow – and we don’t know what our destination will look like. I’m setting out our direction of travel, and taking the first few steps.”
It may be progressive and a bit scary, but what isn’t at first sight?
Kelsei can be reached at kwhart11(at)stanford.edu