Thursday, 13 July 2017

Digital Competence / Computer Science - Refreshing Views

It was interesting to read this on the BBC news website a couple of weeks ago, 'Computing in schools - alarm bells over England's classes.' At the heart of the report is that experts are concerned that since the introduction of the computing curriculum in England, there has only been a modest rise in students taking the new computer science GCSE. By 2020, the British Computer Society warns that the number studying for a computing qualification could halve. The other major concern is that only 20% of the entrants were girls, down from around 40% taking the previous ICT qualification. There were those at the time who were concerned with the change in focus of the curriculum and talked of, 'throwing the baby out with the bathwater'.  As Drew Buddie says in the BBC article, he felt that ICT was unfairly maligned and was far more creative than its critics assumed, and that "it is clear that many 14-to-17-year-old students, particularly girls, are not attracted to such a specific and narrow course." To be fair, digital literacy and ICT elements are still in the English curriculum but all the emphasis appears to have gone into the coding aspect. This was pretty apparent during my recent visit to the Computing at Schools conference in Birmingham, where the overwhelming majority of keynotes and workshops were focused on coding, with little input on the other aspects of the computing curriculum.

"Learning Computer Science is surprisingly hard." - CAS Conference, Birmingham 2017.
I've written a some of posts over the last couple of years mentioning my concerns with the pressure that I could see coming from different quarters (including the BBC) for the introduction to coding. I have no problem with its introduction but wanted a sensible balance between it and digital literacy (see The Balance Between Coding and Digital Literacy and Restoring The Balance). Yesterday I listened to a presentation by a teacher who was involved with the development of the DCF (digital competence framework) and who is one of the digital pioneers working on the new curriculum. It was refreshing to hear him express similar views to myself. He talked about the importance of DCF for all our students, that being digital competent was an essential part of all our lives. He explained to attendees that coding is not mentioned in the DCF (although Computational Thinking is) and that computer science will be part of the new Science and Technology area of learning and experience. I precis what he said somewhat, but basically being digitally competent is essential for all our young people, whereas computer science only appeals to a small number of students who then hopefully go on to become coders. If his views are similar to the rest of the digital pioneers, hopefully we will have the right balance in Wales.