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back to article PM Cameron calls for modern, programmable computers! (We think)

Prime Minister David Cameron has made some baffling remarks on IT in a speech to the G8 Summit calling for greater clarity. Speaking specifically on the subject of the UK's national curriculum and how vital it is to get "education right", Cameron told the confab: We’re proposing more arithmetic and algebra in maths, more detail …

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Don't underestimate the Bollocks

In Bollocks: "We’re proposing more arithmetic and algebra in maths, more detail in science, more clarity on punctuation and spelling in English, more emphasis on modern methods of computing like coding."

Translated into English: ""

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Re: Don't underestimate the Bollocks

Well if Maths is going to be reduced to arithmetic and English to spelling then computer science should be about taking computers out of boxes and plugging them in.

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Childcatcher

Re: Don't underestimate the Bollocks

I teach GCSE Maths to late teenagers and adults. I'd advise any interested parties to look at the work of the Education Select Committee in Parliament. Their reports are accessible, and have some concept about the way you actually go about changing a system with 10+ million pupils and a tad under half a million or so teachers. Hint: not in 2 years. This is not party based, the leader of the select committee is Graham Stuart, a tory.

We all elect a government, and they formulate policy to guide them in the way they use your taxes to provide education. I and my colleagues do our best to implement the policies as you would expect us to. (My hobby is knitting hats from mist).

I'll start taking the changes to GCSE Maths seriously when I see sample assessment materials (with associated marking schemes) and not before. You'll find it kind of gets made sensible at that stage because it has to because just under 700 000 people will answer the exam questions each year and it is hard to be vague then!

I don't teach IT so I'm not commenting on that one. Good luck to all involved.

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Re: Don't underestimate the Bollocks

>We all elect a government

Given turnout in the last two decades, only about 65% of us elect a government.

Actually, for the last election there was an online tool you could use that asked you how you felt about individual policies and then gave you percentage matches against parties (you had to tell them which parties you would consider voting for first).

My answers matched roughly equally across the three main parties, so that really helped my voting choice (not).

At that point, it became starkly apparent to me that we should vote on each policy as well as the representative, that way you can vote left/right/middle but not have to take the wheat and chaff together.

The winners then have a clear idea of what people do and don't want them to do with their power.

Nah, it'll never fly.

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Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

what they did in this subject.

His answer was: "Fsck all."

Apparently the most IT-ish action was copying a file using the command console with step-by-step instructions.

So yes, I have to agree with him, coding in school would be nice. (That's also what the young man behind me thought, he was bored to bits in their IT class.)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

Rather than rely on anecdotal evidence, try having a look at the actual exam paper for GCSE ICT last year.. On one question, candidates are asked to describe data validation in a database, input masks and test data design. Another asks for a discussion of the benefits and risks of networked devices in an office.

Not exactly copying a file at the command line is it?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

Sounds like his communication skills are down the tubes as well. Did you ask him what they did in English GCSE?

My son is just starting on his computing GCSE so yet to see how it goes. Nowadays the choice is between IT (basic user skills) or Computing (includes coding).

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Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

He got to use the command console in class?! Wow... that's way more than I got to do (3/4 years ago) We did nothing but use the graphical interface of dreamweaver (I was actually told off for trying to learn some html and code it myself) to create awful "websites" about healthy eating and the like.

What I'd have given to use the command console!

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Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

Sorry to butt in here, but I just went trawling:

http://www.edexcel.com/migrationdocuments/GCSE2010/GCSE%20in%20ICT%20Unit%201%20SAM-MS-final.pdf

Although there MIGHT be questions like you say, the questions worth just-as-many-marks are things like "Which of these four phones has the largest memory?" when you're given a list of specifications.

And "Give two ways in which a game can be controlled hands free."

And "Manjit is asked to enter her new password twice. Give one reason for this."

Sorry, but that's just worthless. I work in IT, I work in IT in education specifically, I'm a coder, and a geek. But that's just a worthless tick-box exercise that doesn't expand people's knowledge at all. At worst, you're looking at memorisation of pointless information and random multiple-choice guessing to pass.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

@AC: 10:31:

"Rather than rely on anecdotal evidence, try having a look at the actual exam paper for GCSE ICT last year.. On one question, candidates are asked to describe data validation in a database, input masks and test data design. Another asks for a discussion of the benefits and risks of networked devices in an office.

Not exactly copying a file at the command line is it?"

I am so glad teaching has moved forward. I used to get pulled out of class to help the IT/business teacher because she didnt even know how to switch on a computer. And yes by switch on I mean the big round button in front of her. Granted it was over 10 yr ago.

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Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

Sorry to butt in here

I was under the impression that GCSE’s were for 15 year olds, and the idea is to show they have a ‘’basic” (no offence indented) competence in the subject, most people who do well in chosen GCSE’s (like computing) will go on to apply this ‘basic’ level to either further education in the subject, such as A Levels and then University, or go into apprenticeships or other roles in which they will learn more skills ‘on the job’, either way they will mostly end up in junior positions so again they can continue learning.

Do you think you could have had all the knowledge required to do the job you currently do when you were 15 years old? Keeping in mind you had only been able to write for around 10 years, let alone type, If so either you were exceptionally talented, or you might want to look for a new job.

As for “Dave” I guess he (or his speech writer) thinks coding is ‘modern’ because they were taught useful subjects like Latin and buggery avoidance at school.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

You didn't look very hard then, or rather did you selectively choose the foundation level paper which only covers grades G to C.

Have another go and look at this instead.

http://www.edexcel.com/migrationdocuments/QP%20Current%20GCSE/June%202011%20-%20QP/1185_2H_que_20110613.pdf

Yes there are easier questions in the paper, but you need to test all abilities I the same paper so you will expect some easier questions in the paper.

Your selective choice of questions exhibits the typical attitude of someone like Mr Gove, just broadcast that which supports your position. I invite all the readers of this page to look at the question paper I linked to and make a comment. Real discourse and constructive criticism helps the discussion, selecting a few questions set at the F or E mark level in a single module rather then looking at the paper as a whole gives a poor impression. Couple the exam with the proof that the students are capable of the work covered in the course via their coursework gives a more rounded picture of the individuals.

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Pint

Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

Perhaps he is as a nice blonde I once met. Telling her I was a programmer she lit up and told me she was a programmer too. My next question was, of course, about the programming language, which was Excel.

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Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

Sorry, no. That's a "Higher Tier" paper, something that you don't expect the average student to ever see. Additionally, look at the mark allocation. You get as many marks for a handful of "OCR stands for what?"-type questions as you do the ones at the VERY end of the Higher Tier paper that you link.

You could get an A in that course without even bothering to do more than answer the 1-mark questions and take a stab any question over 2 marks.

"The temperature sensor sends information to the computer via an interface device. Name this device." [1 mark]

"Explain why it's needed" [2 marks]

It's still pathetic. And the average student? You'll be lucky to get a C, so the information that they have in their heads to pass with a C is what will pass into "common knowledge/skills" in the fresh workforce in a few years to come. So, still, totally pointless.

Sure, they may be assigned coursework but it's the sheer quality of the qualification that's pathetic. When I left uni, A-level students started to do the same Graph Theory that I was taught in Uni (my brother is a teacher, state and private and I've had a career exclusively managing IT for schools). Nowadays, they are learning things in GCSE ICT that are literally quiz-type questions for 8-year-olds. What does OCR stand for? Really? How pathetic.

It reminds me of when I read the 1960's A-level Physics papers while studying Physics. God, my course was so dumbed down compared to back then, I was so relieved not to have lived in the 1960's. The same is happening in ICT but we don't have lots of historical papers to refer back to.

99% of that cruft, I could push a class of GCSE students through with a day of training to the exam. That shouldn't be possible.

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Facepalm

Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

@ various ACs and other defenders of the curriculum.

His statement might not have been totally objective. Teenager's statements seldom are (as you might or might not know*); nevertheless it shows just how amazingly interesting this subject was made. Not.

Generally education seems to aim at pupils passing the test instead of grokking the subject. After all, free (as in beer, not as in speech) schools need to show a certain return for their council funding. This might be totally different in public schools that you pay for.

* . . . reminds me of the film 'Medicine Man', where Sean Connery's character gets insulted by a Yanomami shaman with the words: "You are not a father".

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Re: Just asked someone who did GCSE IT last year

I did O'level CS in the early 1980s probably soon after it was introduced.

It was a joke then, we wrote an "ask 20 questions" app in BBC basic and had an exam that asked you to do little more than circle the picture of a mainframe. I remember the exam took about 15mins - we were all looking around confused as if they had missed some pages out.

Now don't get me started on the differences between maths/physics O level 30years ago and what we teach today .....

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WTF?

Hey kids, le'me give you an app-a-tunity!

He's just ripping off The Thick of It now (just like Labour used to) but this time he's going to go into a local school and tell "the kids" that he's "down with them" and that they are to make apps in school for free.

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WTF?

I'm assuming it's related to previous statements like this

http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240113670/-ICT-curriculum-for-GCSEscrapped

and after a quick google for a sample paper on "Living in a Digital World":

http://www.edexcel.com/migrationdocuments/GCSE2010/GCSE%20in%20ICT%20Unit%201%20SAM-MS-final.pdf

I think I may be in absolute agreement.

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Re: I'm assuming it's related to previous statements like this

*(e) Some people claim that playing video games is beneficial.

Make a reasoned argument to support this point of view.(p19)

Bit of a wierd question.

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Oh, and.

(iv) The availability of free applications software is a threat to commercial

software producers, such as MicrosoftTM.

Explain two ways in which commercial software producers can

respond to this threat.(p21)

Har.

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Re: I'm assuming it's related to previous statements like this

http://www.edexcel.com/migrationdocuments/GCSE2010/GCSE%20in%20ICT%20Unit%201%20SAM-MS-final.pdf

That's not IT, not ICT, certainly not Computing. It's "shopping", or what was called "design for living" when I worra lad, "life skills".

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Boffin

If your pollies are as IT savy as most of ours here in .au, then by "modern methods of computing" he means using LEDs* above the toggle switches instead of little incandescent bulbs.

*Like in the newest TVs. It must be really modern then!

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He Misspoke

The modern way of using computers is "consumption", not coding. Thou shalt not dare do anything but consume.

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Re: He Misspoke

That's just pants. Everything you consume *someone* had to code.

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Typical edu do-gooder attitude

Again, powerful people with meagre pedagogical insight feel qualified to weigh in on subtle details of curriculum planning.

I teach programming. For every 'more' requested, there is correspondingly less time for something else. there are rarely calls for less of anything. And often that something else (e.g. learning about different number bases in general) forms the foundation of whatever is wanted more of (I assume hexadecimal is still regarded as useful for 'coding' by the clown, but who can tell?)

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Facepalm

As opposed to teaching the kids how to highlight a line in Word 2000 and make it bold... Or other such lessons in the use of computers, which I've been lead to believe is the form that most school IT takes.

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Anonymous Coward

ICT in schools is designed to teach kids skills for working in a company office. The government needs to establish additional courses that will give students a head start in wanting to pursue a career in software development.

I remember classes for subjects such as Woodwork, Art and Geography so why not something for those wanting to pursue a career in Computer Engineering.

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Old mumbles

That's what he should be called, they don't want educated people, as Gove try's to make everyone even more kids stupid.

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Headmaster

Re: Old mumbles

Gove try's to make everyone even more kids stupid.

It seems to be working.

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FAIL

Typical rubbish spouted by our out of touch leaders

We are living in a world where our leaders are given speeches to read out, and where they have no real appreciation of what they are saying. Just throwing a few "buzzwords" - that is what he was trying to do, into the conversation may well work with the general public, but doing it in front of people who know what they are talking about is asking for trouble.

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leadership challenge

DC is so worried about a challenge from the Mayor of London that he's attempting a 'Boris'?

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"...modern methods of computing like coding"

I think he means 'writing code without using preliminary archaic methods such as requirements analysis and design'.

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Anonymous Coward

Maybe he said 'codeine' ?

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what a first class.....

...bell end.

Between him and Mr Gove it makes me worry to the core about my children's educational future.

Nice article El reg - couldn't have surmised it better.

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Headmaster

Re: what a first class.....

couldn't have surmised it better.

Apparently so.

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I'm sure he was just trying to illustrate

how vital it is to get "education right"

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Mushroom

He was ad-libbing

What he was told to say that "All education is subject to UK law. Science and maths makes us all safer."

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If it smells like..

Then most likely its the value of the qualifications being taken these days.

Having a PM talk fluff on the world stage hardly fills us with confidence that this sorry sate of affairs will be changing any time soon

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Flame

Making web pages...

...if his definition of "coding" is the same as that of Rory Cellan-Jones:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17726085

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Re: Making web pages...

HTML is a computer language for describing how to layout elements on a canvas. It's not a Turing complete language, but it is still a language with specific syntax and grammar, and writing something in that language is an activity I would describe as coding.

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Boffin

Re: Making web pages...

@Tom 38

http://lemire.me/blog/archives/2011/03/08/breaking-news-htmlcss-is-turing-complete/

HTML+CSS may be Turing complete. But I wouldn't want to try and actually do arithmetic in it...

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Anonymous Coward

How about

Programmable government? Put them in debug mode and lets get fixing :)

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Devil

Re: How about

IT already is, just the lobbyists, not the public are the ones doing the programming.

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Windows

Maybe he thinks punch cards are still used everywhere?

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Anonymous Coward

* PUNCHED cards

The cards have been PUNCHED.

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WTF?

Obviously been using a random bullshit generator.

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FAIL

This is coming on the back of initiatives like code.org (aka. let's make programming look cool by involving celebs - as soon as Will-I-Am' face appears of course you need to take it with a pinch of salt, like that car he 'invented' and the rubbish he spouted when he was one of the Olympic torch bearers). Politicians have seen the video on the homepage and now think they know what they are talking about....

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I guess he'd like to see kids taught something a bit deeper than an Excel formula, which is commendable enough I guess. Throw the kids Scratch to play with, and gcc or MSVS if the budget stretches that far, at the ones that show an interest.

But really I'm making up my own bullshit in an attempt to get sense out of a statement that is quite bizarre.

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Childcatcher

It's very easy to sit back and criticise the teachers and examination bodies, but the curriculum depends on what the expected outcomes of the education system are. Much of this is driven by what employers ask for in prospective employees.

There are a couple of possible things to look at. Not every child leaving school is going to be a programmer or IT specialist, but many of them will enter a workplace where they have a computer on their desk and will be expected to be able to use it. They therefore should be able to use an office package of some form, produce word processed documents, spreadsheets and presentations. The existing ICT curriculum produced students with exactly those skills.

The other route is for those learners who do want to program, they need a different curriculum which does cover programming, software design, data modelling and so forth. This was a gap in the curriculum, but we need both routes not one or the other. Do you really want to have to start training new employees on basic skills like using a word processor as soon as they begin working for you?

We need to be careful in criticising the curriculum, politicians will jump on the band wagon; the education secretary is already planning to remove project work from the qualification assessment. Ask yourselves how many projects do you work in in your day to day life at work and how often does two years of your effort come down to writing out some answers in a couple of hours on a single day?

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What are schools for anyway?

"Do you really want to have to start training new employees on basic skills like using a word processor as soon as they begin working for you?"

I'm not quite sure why I'm paying my taxes, but it's not so that companies can save themselves the expense of a two day MIcrosoft Office training course for the new-starter. So the answer to your question is "Yes, I think that if companies want people with certain skills beyond reading, writing, basic maths and being able to think (which, granted, is not very likely given our education system, but it's worth a punt), they should be prepared to train up those skills themselves or pay for experienced, already skilled staff."

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