ICT or Comptuing? – Planning for the future

ICT is… “so harmful, boring and/or irrelevant it should simply be scrapped”

In December 2012, I left my nice job as Head of ICT Department in an East London comprehensive, to venture into the unknown world of teaching beyond the school where I had completed my NQT year. I had six good years as an ICT teacher behind me and could have easily done six more. My department had successfully become a grade production line which took students in with the promise of A*-C grades and duly delivered – I opted to embrace change and go into teaching Computing too…since adopting this change, I have found that one thing that confuses many is the difference between ICT and Computing and how are things changing in schools?

Earlier that year, the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove along with “…other experts, including the British Computer Society and ICT professional association Naace, confirmed the current National Curriculum Programme of Study was dull and unsatisfactory. Some respondents to a 2008 e-Skills study said that GCSE ICT was “so harmful, boring and/or irrelevant it should simply be scrapped”.” (Ref)

After Gove’s crusade on my subject, I remember walking into my Line Manager’s office and asking her if I still had a job, at which point she smiled and said; “Do you really take what that idiot has to say seriously?!”

Now I’m in no way a fan of the idiot, oh errr, I mean Michael Gove or his “off the cuff” policies which didn’t appear to be well thought out or based on much other than how he was feeling at the time. But one thing I did learn, and stand by, is that most of the policies then (and now) are largely based on the fact that education system in the UK has been overlooked for so long that ministers must have woken up one morning in 2012 and realized that the world had sped on ahead while the UK was struggling to teach working class white boys how to read and write properly (yes that’s a priority of the UK education system); they wanted change and they wanted it quick! Subsequently, blame had to go on someone and as always the teachers were laid to blame for the shortcomings and neglect of the system. (We seem to take the blame for pretty much anything: Economy not doing too well? Must be the teachers pensions; Gun and knife crime on the increase? It’s the teachers’ fault; Increased level of teenage pregnancies? It’s the teachers again!; Too much salt in your cooking?…Yep gotta be them bloody teachers!).

So what’s all this got to do with the difference between ICT and Computing? Well firstly, it’s my blog and I felt like having a rant, but more importantly the idiot actually made sense! ICT had become a subject that had indeed become dull and boring and needed some serious change; it needed to be bought in line with technological developments and not about “hey guys let’s make yet another PowerPoint presentation about…PowerPoint presentations?”

So… what’s the difference between ICT and Computing? Well it’s quite simple really, and I like to give the following analogy to my students who eagerly come to me at the end of Year 9 and are choosing their options for KS4. I tell them:

“See it’s like this, if ICT is like learning how to drive a car properly then Computing is like being the mechanic”. It’s at that point the penny usually drops and students make a decision “Do I want to be a driver or a mechanic?”

ICT has evolved over the years and continues to evolve. In my 10 years of teaching, I’ve been involved in revamping as many schemes of work. Many people are under the illusion that ICT teachers generally have an easy ride when it comes to curriculum delivery. After all, what could be so hard about getting a bunch of kids to sit on the computer and make them watch YouTube videos and make presentations all day long? This has also become one of the reasons why students have, time and time again been pushed into taking ICT as options at KS4 and 5.

“It’s ICT, not Rocket Science!” was the response that I got from my current Headteacher after my students didn’t do as well as expected in a later position I took on. What my Head didn’t want to hear was that the students I had been teaching were doing the A-Level based on poor guidance by their tutors who thought it would be an easy ride and a good backup option. My students in the international school where I am teaching also have English as an Additional Language and weren’t cut out for an exam that was essentially designed for the ‘British’ student. Furthermore students were being entered into the ICT A-Level who wouldn’t have qualified for A-Levels in the UK and were well below the 5 A*-C grades (including English and Mathematics) that is the standard benchmark for considering students for study at Advanced Level. Ironically, the Head’s son took the exam a year later and had found the exam very hard. I was approached in the corridor by the Head and asked about the exam as his son had expressed how challenging it was; I responded diplomatically and said that it was as expected. I should have said “It’s ICT, not Rocket Science!”

“Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes” (Edsger W. Dijkstra)

The truth is ICT continues to change but the problem is people’s perceptions and ideas about the subject haven’t. Perhaps it’s this very reason why the subject hasn’t been given the opportunity to develop and thrive like it should. Unfortunately as a result ICT lacks the context that is required by a subject to make it engaging; most ICT is theory based and fuelled largely by abstract ideas and concepts that students can’t fully understand unless they apply them in a practical way. This is one of the reasons why I have become a fan of the International Baccalaureate which uses ICT as a tool for students to complete aspects of their work as opposed to being a subject that is taught discreetly. Computing on the other hand allows students to explore and understand computers on a practical level and is a subject that works well when being taught as a subject in its own right.

I think the quote “Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes” (Edsger W. Dijkstra) sums up computing and computer science very well as it emphasizes an expected level of understanding computing methods.

So What’s the Future of ICT and Computing?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) (especially at the Middle Years Program) has, in my opinion shown most promise for ICT within schools and laid good foundations as to how ICT should be used within the curriculum. IB expects students to combine learning, skills and theory from a range of subjects to ultimately create a project that demonstrates understanding in a range of areas (ICT being one of these areas). Schools now need to adopt this more integrated approach if they are to make students fully aware of the technological tools they can use to overcome real life problems.

Ultimately, In my humble opinion, as mentioned, I feel that schools and institutions should be using ICT as a tool to promote learning. You have probably gathered from my previous posts that I am in full support of contextualized learning and promote the use of ICT technologies across the curriculum to aid the teaching, learning and assessment process. ICT as a discreet subject, certainly at GCSE should be replaced in favor of Computing where students are expected to utilize ICT skills in order to understand the workings of a computer. However this doesn’t mean the demise of ICT as a whole, used well (again I will make reference to the International Baccalaureate) it should be used to promote learning throughout the curriculum and students should be encouraged to use it where possible. If we are to equip our students for the 21st Century, then we need to ensure that they understand computers (Computing) as well as being able to use them properly (ICT).

As a crucial first step, students and educators alike need to recognize the difference between the two subjects (I’d be willing to put my money on the fact that most Heads won’t know the difference between the two) and establish priorities for curriculum planning and delivery once those differences have been established. Let Computing be taught discreetly and let us embrace ICT across the curriculum!

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