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back to article That new 'Microsoft GCSE': We reveal what's in it

Exam board AQA's head of accreditation Mary Jane Newman has revealed a few more details about the so-called "Microsoft GCSE", which will be taught in Britain from September. The Redmond-backed ICT GCSE with-real-actual-programming aims to redress the big fall in pupils taking the qualification, counter accusations that the …

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Good words

I like the suggestion that no one language is mandated, that makes sense. I welcome the idea that ICT as taught at the moment is a load of bollocks.

I ought to be against Microsoft's involvement, but I'm not. It is likely that the target systems the kids will be programming will be things like the Arduino or the Pi, and M$'s programming products have always been quite good anyway. I think the youngsters should get a decent spread of ideas before they have to do it all properly at University.

Fairly positive about the whole thing, really.

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Re: Good words

"I like the suggestion that no one language is mandated"

I too like this statement, but, it lead me to think "What choice will these students have?" and "What might their choice of language be considering that they are likely to have no programming experience?".

Essentially, the decision over which languages or technology to use will rest with a school board or the teachers themselves. This could be good, bad or just me being paranoid.

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Headmaster

Re: Good words

your choices will be:

1 )vb.net which we have loads of free textbooks and training materials from the nice people at Microsoft and is the only language the teachers will be trained in (if they don't have any prior experience)

2) any other language you like but we have no books and we don't know how they work so don't come crying to us for help because you choose to be different.

pretty much had this at college and university both in the MS academic program

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Good words

> 1 )vb.net

It will be c#. TFA says the kids can pick from gaming, web, mobile or traditional development.

In other words they can choose from Visual Studio with XNA, Visual Studio on it's own, Visual Studio with the Metro stuff or Visual Studio again.

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c#

Not convinced. Hope not.

If the kids end up trying to make athletics day timers with a raspberry pi it might well be python.

A lot depends on what the projects will look like - there is an opportunity here for some intelligent vendors to bundle up some hardware, a dev environment, some examples and some teaching material.

I'd like to throw in a word for http://processing.org/, but I don't suppose anyone involved in delivering the programme reads elReg.

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Re: Good words

I'm not so sure about the lack of any guidance on programming languages. If it's anything like my computer science degree where every lecturer rolled out their favourite obscure pet programming language (including one lecturer who'd written his own) I think there's a risk of kids being taught a language that has little industry demand.

While I do think being exposed to so many different languages helped hammer home how similar most of them are and how easy it is to learn a new programming language from scratch, I can't say I've ever had cause to use my skills in things like Eiffel or SmallTalk and would rather have had more time getting deeper into C or Java.

Still, if the alternative is everyone leaving school with just Visual Basic skills I'm all for a little diversity!

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Re: Good words

"Essentially, the decision over which languages or technology to use will rest with a school board or the teachers themselves. This could be good, bad or just me being paranoid."

It will probably end up being a compromise. Just like some schools do French, some do German, some do Spanish... You need the teaching resources in place. I expect there will be a smattering of different approved options but no more (they'll need to be able to provide exam papers, after all). I wouldn't be surprised if Javascript is a popular language for this. The thought chills my blood, but it seems probable. It's directly translatable to them doing things on the web. Windows 8 actually lets you program Metro apps in Javascript + CSS + HTML5 so they can actually deploy stuff straight onto a popular OS if they want to and the development tools for it exist and aren't too hard to learn.

I'm not really much in favour of teaching programming at GCSE level. I think it inevitably gets treated at insufficient depth and it will all have to be re-done at University level again later. And really, whilst it's a great skill, it's so little directly applicable to many people's lives. If you do Science, then you may not become a scientist, but at least it raises the scientific knowledge level of society. Ditto History, etc. You can pick up programming and other directly career related skills later on if you choose to, and they'll be better taught, too. And yet, there are two things in favour of this: One - this has to be better than the instantly out of date crap that they call ICT at the moment (and would be better called Secretarial Skills + Dangerous Fragments of Knowledge). And two - we need to do something about the state of programming in this country. I suppose if this drums up interest and stokes ability, that is at least something. It might give the self-learners a better start.

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Re: Good words

Or, given that they probably still have the same computers that they had when I was at school, BBC Basic.

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IT Angle

M$'s programming products?

> M$'s programming products have always been quite good anyway.

You gave yourself away there, no real technical geek would use the phrase 'programming products', no such thing. There's compilers, linkers and debuggers ..

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Re: Good words

VB.net is what put me off programming in school, but it seems I was lucky to experience any programming in the first place...

I would argue at least something object-oriented would be better, but I will agree that VB is pretty easy to learn.

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Re: M$'s programming products?

"You gave yourself away there, no real technical geek would use the phrase 'programming products', no such thing. There's compilers, linkers and debuggers .."

Which if you don't want to keep typing "compilers, linkers and debuggers...", you might just refer to as 'programming products'.

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Headmaster

@h4rm0ny - Re: M$'s programming products?

h4rm0ny wrote :- "if you don't want to keep typing "compilers, linkers and debuggers...", you might just refer to as 'programming products'"

Maybe, but GP was right. "Product" is marketing droids' language. .

A geek would have said "MS languages", "MS stuff", "MS software", "MS IDEs", or even "MS development suites" - anything but "MS programming products".

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Re: Good words

"I think there's a risk of kids being taught a language that has little industry demand."

14 year olds start this next year? So 6 to 10 years before they get anywhere near the job market. What was industry standard 10 years ago? Where is it now? What devices will people be using in 6 to 10 years?

Perhaps some kind of transferrable skill (including the ability to pick up new languages) might be a better idea.

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Re: M$'s programming products?

Visual Studio is the nicest profesional C++ dev environment out there. It beats emacs+make+gdb

But that doesn't mean you should teach kids it. It's like saying we are replacing your crappy metal work tools with a class on how to change the oil in a BMW 5series, just because it's a nice car

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Re: Good words - don't forget Netduino

Don't forget the Netduino when mentioning Arduino and M$.

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Re: @h4rm0ny - M$'s programming products?

"Maybe, but GP was right. "Product" is marketing droids' language. A geek would have said "MS languages", "MS stuff", "MS software", "MS IDEs", or even "MS development suites" - anything but "MS programming products".

Well good job I'm not a geek, just an old programmer. Oh wait, I don't work in marketing and never have, and yet I'm fine with the term programming products, so doesn't that mean you're not the arbitrator of what professions are allowed to use what terminology. So instead of programming products you offer the following options:

"MS Languages" - Well that's innacurate because they're referring to more than just languages.

"MS Stuff" - Well that's even more innacurate because it obviously encompases a tonne of "stuff" beyond direct programming languages and tools.

"MS IDEs" - That's not too bad except it doesn't quite necessarily encompass the languages themselves.

"MS development suites" - See MS IDEs. Just synonyms, really.

I don't see why "MS programming products" should give you such conniptions. If it's made by MS, it's a product they sell and its purpose is programming in some form, it's covered. Your aversion to an everyday word like 'product' is bizarre. They make it, they sell it, it's a product. You go and abide by your little "Geek" rules and I'll continue to enjoy the full range of the English language. Cheers!

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Re: M$'s programming products?

"Visual Studio is the nicest profesional C++ dev environment out there. It beats emacs+make+gdb"

I totally agree. However, it doesn't beat vi+make+gdb at all!

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Re: @h4rm0ny - M$'s programming products?

Well quite.

I make a casual, easily understood, remark and am suddenly guilty of a thought crime.

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Re: Good words

Or, as they're probably using Windows machines, BBC BASIC for Windows, with a school licence for about £200.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: M$'s programming products?

"No real technical geek would use the phrase 'programming products', no such thing. There's compilers, linkers and debuggers .."

So, about each of these "products" which you describe, used to "program" things ... have you heard about these new fangled thingies called "abstraction" and "generalisation"? They're really great for facilitating effective communication. Would you like a class diagram maybe?

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Re: M$'s programming products?

Or even NetBeans. That will do an assortment of useful languages - Java, C, C++, PHP, Perl (via plugin).

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@Nuke - M$'s programming products?

>"Product" is marketing droids' language.

And how is that inappropriate in the context of Microsoft?

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Re: M$'s programming products?

>You gave yourself away there, no real technical geek would use the phrase 'programming products', no such thing. There's compilers, linkers and debuggers ..

What a bloody stupid comment: of course they're products. Linkers are not. If you need to clarify this, when was the last time you downloaded (yet alone bought) a Microsoft linker that was not supplied as part of something else? I would venture to guess that no such product exists, even going back to when MASM was the bee's knees.

No fan of Microsft's development systems here, but if you're going to criticise try and do so with a little credibility.

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Yuck

Can we not call it the "Microsoft GCSE" please? It makes it sound less than relevant. The "Furber GCSE" sounds much more awesome.

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Re: Yuck

But calling it Computer Studies GCSE will get far fewer people shouting about MS and much less F5 related advertiser income for the Reg...

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My ICT teacher at school...

My ICT teacher at school had an IQ which was below 0.. At least some of the teachers may have knowledge about programming etc.

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Sounds excellent to me. When I was in high school (in my 20s, so not that long since) there was no ICT in our school at all below A-level, and that course was such a joke that I switched schools to do A-level Computing instead.

They since got GCSE ICT, and it's not much better. Seems to be a "how to use Office" course for a decent chunk of the time. I wonder if they still have that room full of Apple LCIIs, for the "top sets"...

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re: ICT

ICT is not Computer Science, it is pretty much "how to use office", it's also how to use computers and other tech more generally, but it's not supposed to be taking the lid of and tinkering inside, or programming etc.

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At college, I taught the programming lecturer how to do some neat programming tricks.

And by that, I mean "functions built in to the language"

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What's in a name?

"Redmond-backed ICT GCSE with-real-actual-programming"

So the school will be pressured into making the kids will learn Visual Basic, maybe C# and some ASP? Or will they be taught some actual real skills in a vendor neutral manner?

I am not sure how much the new GCSE is "Redmond-backed" and how much is just ElReg spin. But the taint of MS should be kept out of education wherever possible.

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Re: What's in a name?

MS don't really back VB, and C#/.NET ARE very valuable real-world skills (C~ can earn you more than Java in the UK for a start).

Clamouring for 'neutrality' has to mean you can't clamour for schools to use Linux because then that's just as partisan. Ideally both would be covered however for basics of programming you can use nearly any language on both anyway.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What's in a name?

My ICT GCSE taught us to use Microsoft Word, and how to make databases in Microsoft Excel(!). We did have the option of Microsoft Access, but the tuition was in Excel.

We also did DTP in Microsoft Publisher.

My AVCE had these, and also Microsoft AutoCAD, Microsoft Visio.....

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Re: What's in a name?

So what if kids learn VB or C#. The important bit is learning the thought processes and analysis that go into creating a program, be that in Java, C++, Python, Ruby, Objective C or even Object Pascal (or Delphi) Implementation is secondary to good design.

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Anyone with a proper education in computer science

can program competently in several different languages, and is not afraid to learn another (and can quickly do so).

Of course a GCSE level course isn't going to teach kids that much depth, but it's still important to realse the distinction between "learning the basics of how to program in <insert language>" and "learning the basics of how to develop software". If they are taught the *reasons* for why they are doing what they are doing, rather than simply being allowed to bash together chunks of code until they have something that seems to work, then they will find it much easier to adapt to other languages in the future.

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@JDX - Whole lotta hatin' going on

Your comment looks remarkably accurate to me.

But you said linux advocacy was being partial and you failed criticize Microsoft for everything, including the Black Plague and the destruction of Atlantis.

Therefore, the commentards will downvote you anyway. Accuracy isn't popular around here anymore.

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Re: What's in a name?

Microsoft autocad?

i think the folks down at autodesk might have something to say about that :-)

(but i do know what you mean... i think)

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Headmaster

@dogged - Re: @JDX - Whole lotta hatin' going on

This is getting deep, but it was JDX who brought up the subject of Linux. The post (by The BigYin) he was criticising made no mention of it. I think both their posts have good points except for the straw man that JDX raises in his second sentence.

There are vendor neutral, platform neutral and free languages available in both Windows and Linux. Perl, Python, and C for example.

No matter what people say about programming skills being transferable between languages, people get attached to the first one they learn. So it IS a concern if MS get them hooked on C# for example.

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Re: What's in a name?

"however for basics of programming you can use nearly any language on both anyway."

Exactly. Teaching the fundamentals of programming is what is required. As someone else mentioned, no one knows what languages will be the "popular" ones in 10 years time.

Back when I did GCE "O" and "A" level Computer Studies, BASIC was the high level language and CECIL was the low level language. We were told that something call COBOL existed and was used for "business" stuff. Later, at the local Polytech. we learned BASIC and COBOL.

Icon....because we still had some teacher who wore their gown to prove they had a real degree. One even wore his mortor board :-)

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CECIL?

Point of order...

I'm sure it was CESIL (Computer Education In Schools Instructional Language)

It involved filling out coding forms and sending them off to the local authority to be typed in then run overnight on a mainframe.

Most of the time the printout came back with 'Syntax Error at line 10'. Ahhhhhhhhh, those were the days....

I'll get me (very old) coat

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Re: What's in a name?

@JDX - Clamouring for 'neutrality' has to mean you can't clamour for schools to use Linux because then that's just as partisan.

Huh? Linux is a kernel for many competing operating systems that exist in a vibrant eco system with actual competition and innovation. But I never mentioned Linux (or BSD or anything else). If you want to talk "neutrality", then I would say that any F/OSS software is light-years ahead of any proprietary stuff simply because the F/OSS coders have no real desire/need to deliberately create lock-in by designing/implementing inconsistent and incomplete 'standards'. Nor do the stuff the ballot of major standards bodies to try and give a veneer of credibility.

I just think the companies should be kept out of education as far as is possible (but obviously someone needs to print the books etc). So no fizzy-drink sponsored textbooks which are little more than adverts for fizzy-drinks. No junk-food companies running the canteen. Heck, we should keep the corporates out of various places. Why do our hospitals also host junk-food provenders FFS? It makes no sense.

Then again, I have odd views when it comes to companies and sponsorship. For example - at the Olympics I would only serve the athletes McDonalds. Why? Well McDonalds was allowed to be a sponsor of a sporting event, so they must be selling the best food for athletes. It's not like some suits will just have accepted a wodge of money and paid no attention to the message they are sending, is it?

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Re: What's in a name?

Most Polytechnics had a requirement to be more business and industry focused than Universities. Normally, where there was a University and a Polytechnic in the same city, there was a requirement from the syllabus authority that the two establishments put different emphasis on what looked like similar courses. This is why a lot of Polys had courses like 'Business Computing' rather than a pure Computer Science course.

When a lot of these courses were originally designed in the 1980's, business computing was based around Cobol, the most commonly used business language at the time (RPG was also common, but I would not suffer any student with learning that as their primary language!) although there were several BASIC orientated business systems (DEC RSTS and Pick spring to mind).

For schools, BBC BASIC was a brilliant choice, because it was structured enough to satisfy most programming purists at a fundamental level (OK, while loops were missing, and complex data structures were a bit difficult), it was fast enough even on modest hardware to do quite impressive looking things to encourage staff and students to try ever more complex tasks, and it was accessible to people with very little previous knowledge.

It also encouraged teachers to learn some programming themselves to help teach their non-computing subjects (because it was relatively easy), rather than as just a support for computing related courses. Currently, teachers have no incentive to learn any programming at all because the initial learning curve is too steep.

I believe that there is absolutely nothing that I have seen then or since which was better as an introduction to computer fundamentals as the BBC microcomputer and BBC BASIC. Updated in a modern windowing OS, with hooks into the GUI and OS (as it was in RISCOS), and it could still be the best thing around.

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Re: What's in a name?

I apologise.

We used it once. 10 years ago. I made a cube.

Something made me think it was "MS AutoCAD 2000"

The basic point still stands though that we were taught to use MS products back then...

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Re: What's in a name?

"For schools, BBC BASIC was a brilliant choice, ... OK, while loops were missing"

WHILE loops can be implemented with REPEAT/UNTIL (just as REPEAT loops can be implemented with WHILE), and WHILE/ENDWHILE itself appeared in BASIC V in 1985.

"BBC BASIC. Updated in a modern windowing OS, with hooks into the GUI and OS (as it was in RISC OS), and it could still be the best thing around."

BBC BASIC for Windows. bbcbasic.co.uk

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"How to use office" is pointless. That's as pointless as "how to use a computer" as pretty much every kid picks this up from an early age anyway.

What needs teaching is the stuff you aren't going to learn at home, eg. Programming of course, but also managing file systems, configuring a network of servers etc etc.

Yes, this stuff is often quite specific but by teaching specifics you get the generality too.

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Anonymous Coward

Yeah...

And while we're at it, let's stop teaching people to write and do maths, if they need it, they'll be sure to pick it up at home.

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You say that

but using word processing software (like MS Word) and knowing how to word process are two different things.

As a very simple rule of thumb, turning on special characters and seeing a ton of spaces used to indent or align is a good example of someone who has "picked this up" and either ignored or been ignored in how to do it properly.

/bugbear

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A complete GCSE course amounts to 150 hours contact time. Throw in the sidetracks and disruptions inevitable in even a well-behaved class and you are looking at around 100 hours that actually count. That's not a lot of time: if you increase the breadth of the syllabus the depth of coverage must by necessity become paper-thin to compensate. If you spend that 100 hours covering a hundred specific cases the student walks away knowing nothing about how it all fits together and nothing that is still relevant come the next version of Windows. Spend it on a smaller core of fundamentals and there's a chance the student actually retains something of value and that won't be obsolete in five years time.

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Anonymous Coward

"That's as pointless as "how to use a computer" as pretty much every kid picks this up from an early age anyway."

I work in a fairly well rated Senior School, a lot of the kids can barely change their passwords.

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Re: You say that

@Ian Yates - I always view with special characters on. Drives my colleagues nuts! And yes, I am forever fixing 20 spaces with a tab/ruler change.

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