It wasn’t me wot done it, Sir! The depressing state of Computing as a subject

Kids, especially girls, are being put off Computing studies.

Kids, especially girls, are being put off Computing studies.

Well here’s a surprise. Apparently, students are abandoning Computer Science in droves. Many of us in ed tech have been warning for ages that this would happen, and that girls in particular were being put off from taking the subject. Now the BBC has picked up on it, in a report by Rory Cellan Jones entitled Computing in schools - alarm bells over England's classes

What I find galling is that nobody responsible for this situation has stood up and said “Sorry, we got it wrong”. They have pointed out that their preferred more balanced version of the Computing programme of study was rejected, which is true. I have even heard one person state that the reason for the emphasis on coding is that the media focused on it, which is dubious. That wasn’t the impression I had at various conferences — see, for example, my article The hidden messages behind the Year of Code.

The thing is, even if people are disappointed in the Computing curriculum as it turned out, and believe that the media has a lot to answer for, they were remarkably silent when they gave talks at conferences — or at least, the conferences that I attended. Far from decrying the new-found emphasis on coding, they (wrongly) dismissed the old ICT curriculum as not featuring programming at all. Let’s put it this way: none of them seemed heartbroken over the way things turned out. Perhaps, as I’m feeling charitable, they were putting a brave face on it.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of my point of view, Government ministers, their advisors and advocates of Computing have had plenty of warning over the past four years about what might happen. What needs to happen now is the following in my opinion:

  1. Undertake an urgent review of the curriculum. The Computing programme of study is not fit for purpose, unless of course the purpose is to deter most people from studying it while providing an army of ‘coders’ who may be of some use to a narrow section of industry.
  2. The review should draw on the expertise of teachers and ex-teachers, especially those of us who teach or have taught ICT, digital literacy,  and computing and know that all of them are necessary, not only for the economy but also for students. I realise that asking the real experts is a radical suggestion, but it’s really about time that politicians and their advisors started listening to the people who know, rather than the ones who say the things they want to hear.

The reason that many projects go wrong is that the people who draw them up and implement them fail to consult all the stakeholders, a point I made in my article The Pink Slip.

This article is a shortened version of one that appears in the Digital Education newsletter. The longer version includes copious links to background information. To sign up, just complete the form on this page and then confirm your wish to subscribe (if you don't receive a confirmation email immediately, check your spam folder).