5 Characteristics of an Ideal Programme of Study for ICT
Many people in the educational ICT field in England are busy working on a new ICT Programme of Study to replace the current (disapplied) one. Here are my thoughts on what the ideal Programme of Study would be.
I mention this for the sake of completeness and intellectual honesty. For me, the ideal situation would be one in which we wouldn’t need a Programme of Study. For such a thing to be possible, there would have to be massive amounts of teacher training and professional development in ICT and related disciplines. And that just ain’t gonna happen.
There would be at least two advantages to having no Programme of Study, but instead a requirement to address ICT/digital literacy in some form. First, with no official guidance available, teachers and schools will need to discuss and debate what they are going to teach under the auspices of ICT, and that can only be a good thing. Second, Ofsted will not be given the no-thinking-required option of ticking a box marked “Following Programme of Study?”. The present situation, in which schools have to justify to Ofsted inspectors what they are doing in ICT is actually a good thing, because it means that the inspectors have to actively listen.
Well, that’s my theory anyway.
Seeing that my first option is a non-starter given political and economic realities, my second-best choice is for a really really short one. That would give schools the opportunity to take the basics and build on them, and carve out a curriculum that will be right for them, but without schools having everything handed to them on a plate. That isn’t because I want teachers and schools to have to do more work, but to try and head off the inevitable well-intentioned but ultimately dreadful tendency of some organisation to produce a sort of painting-by-numbers approach to teaching ICT which, in my opinion, merely serves to deprofessionalise teachers in the long run.
Peter Twining, of Vital, has made a valiant attempt at producing a short document, although at two pages it is twice as long as it ought to be. I’m obviously being slightly tongue-in-cheek here, and to be fair the first page is introductory stuff, but I do think as a general rule that you should be able to put the Programme of Study onto a side of A4 and let schools themselves flesh it out. After all, any expert should not need lots of detail, just some key words and phrases.
Containing at least one huge gap
There is a tendency to over-specify guidance like programmes of study, even when minimisation is attempted. It’s not so much that everyone wants their own pet thing included (though that is a major consideration), but that anything that is included is, ultimately, based on our experience, assumptions and expectations, and therefore may serve to channel people’s thinking in a particular direction.
For example, Peter Twining’s draft contains the line “Information technologies include all digital media (e.g. Internet, computer programs, apps, ebooks, digital video, etc).” That is all well and good, but what about the “eyeborg”(see You, robot? ) , a device that enables the wearer to “hear” colours ? Where does that fit in? Would you think to include it under the heading “etc”? Admittedly, the text in brackets are only examples, but people often read “eg” as “ie”.
This is not intended to be a criticism, but an observation: given that devices like eyeborgs are either brand spanking new or as yet non-existent, they are unlikely to be referenced in any ICT Programme of Study, a situation which may lead to the next Programme of Study seeming as outdated as the last one in just a few years’ time, as what we think of as digital devices and digital media changes.
Therefore what I’d like to see in any programme of study is a great big gap with the words: “Your idea here”. Why not require schools to come up with its own section of things to include in an ICT curriculum, instead of relying solely on a document?
Have no examples
The point above illustrates another curious thing, I think, which is that any exemplification in this field lends itself to restricting thought and dating the document. The old ICT Programme of Study, for example, was at its weakest when it gave examples. It wasn’t too long before “email” looked hopelessly out of touch, while texting, of course, wasn’t even mentioned, for the very good reason that it didn’t exist when the Programme of Study was written. I rest my case.
I’ve already alluded to the tendency of Ofsted inspectors to take what I think is the easy option of asking schools if they are doing X. When the QCA scheme of work came out, for example, inspectors would ask schools if they are using it – even though it was intended to be just an example. Same story with the Key Stage 3 Strategy, even though that was not mandatory either.
The implication seemed to me to be that if a school was not using the official guidance then they had to justify their decision not to. Indeed, I have a vague recollection of being told, as an Ofsted inspector, that if a school wasn’t following the official guidance then they had to explain why, and prove that they had something at least as good. You’d have to be pretty brave to not simply take the easy way out and follow the party line.
Having gaps, and erring on the side of less detail rather than more, would (I like to imagine) make it less possible for inspectors to take that sort of approach.
I realise that I have committed that most heinous of crimes, that of saying what I’d like or not like to see, without making any substantive suggestions myself. In my defence I should like to say that that is because I think establishing a few principles first about the nature of the ICT Programme of Study is essential.