I’ve long been an ardent advocate of spreadsheets. They can be an invaluable tool in business, education or any other field in which planning, cost or both are paramount. As far as Computing and ICT is concerned, they can be used for teaching modelling and computational thinking. However, they have been denigrated as being “just” an office tool, far removed from the exciting world of coding or robotics.
Well, apart from the fact that spreadsheets can be exciting and an enjoyable way of problem-solving, in the real world spreadsheets are still very much in demand. In fact, in most businesses, “spreadsheet literacy”, to coin phrase, is almost certainly more useful than “coding”, and a recently-published white paper would seem to bear this out.
According to Capitalism’s Dirty Secret, 17% of large businesses have suffered financial loss due to poor spreadsheets, and 57% say that poor spreadsheets have wasted time. Also, 33% of large businesses, 20% of medium businesses and 9% of small businesses have made poor decisions because of bad spreadsheets.
From an educational point of view, these facts are important. I’ve been informed by the Press Association and a small publishing company that new recruits often have to be taught how to create and use a spreadsheet. Recently, someone who runs a digital marketing agency told me that she hoped the new Computing curriculum would lead to school-leavers joining her company with better spreadsheet skills. “Don’t hold your breath”, I told her.
If you give your students the impression that spreadsheets are not only boring, but also that they don’t matter any more, you are doing them a grave disservice. Being comfortable and proficient in the use of spreadsheets will help them to develop their computational skills and, in the case of older students, probably make them more employable.
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