back to article UK ICT classes killing kids' interest in tech

The Royal Society is to investigate why British schools are failing to interest children in information technology - and why numbers taking classes are falling so fast. Since 2006 there has been a 33 per cent fall in pupils taking ICT GCSEs, and numbers taking A-levels in ICT have fallen by a third in six years. The number of …

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  1. vulpine
    Stop

    A good start...

    ...would be to teach children about computers, not simply show them how to use Microsoft Word. When I took my GCSEs, all we did was sit tiredly and listen as the teacher explained how to justify text and insert images; hardly breeding much enthusiasm among us.

  2. Mr Brush
    Unhappy

    No change there then

    Back when I was a sprog, I spent every waking minute at home writing programs on my ZX Speccy. However, Computer Studies at school were dull as dishwater, with endless lectures on mainframes, writing LOGO scripts for turtles and having to use BBC Model Bs for everything. Even the most hardcore geeks were bored within minutes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      When I was a lad...

      I sat the last year of "O Level" Computer Studies which included programming in BBC Basic and assembly lanuage. I was told the new "GCSE" would be "How to use a word processor and a spreadsheet".

      I thought then as I do now, why do I need a GCSE in how to hold a pen and use a calculator? Shouldn't that have been taught as part of a wider curriculum?

    2. Eddie Edwards
      Thumb Up

      I wasn't bored

      I wasn't bored; I entertained myself by arguing with the teacher and mocking her outdated idea of what a computer was and how they were programmed.

      Still I learned many important things in those lessons, such as the abject stupidity of flow charts.

    3. MyHeadIsSpinning
      Thumb Up

      Practical

      I agree; what is needed is more practical work and less theory. When I were a lad, I was taught how a computer worked and so forth; but at no point did we take apart a computer and put it back together. We were not shown what each part of a computer actually looked like or felt like.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      get down to the soil, then work up.

      You see, you did the same as me and most others of our time, starting with concrete implementations, things you can understand completely. The machine code in an early machine is fixed, there is no lower level. Having "got" this, you can then move up through the abstraction layers but confident that you understand all below it in 100% detail. Teenagers need closed concepts that they can know, maybe some assembler, maybe the BBC model B, it got us here today.

    5. Simon Ward

      Re: No change there then

      Heh - the lads in my Computer Studies class were never bored.

      We were too busy playing 'Elite' :-)

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sylabus doomed to irrelevance

      The subject matter changes so rapidly, If the curriculum is not already irrelevant it will be before the kids finish their studies. Like typewriter skills, IT as it is currently taught has no place in mandatory level education.

      For A-level, well established disciplines such as computer science, microelectronics and networking would be abstract enough to make for a good academic grounding, whilst maintaining the interest of those students with a technical bent.

    7. Displacement Activity
      Happy

      Re: A good start

      Ah, I'm afraid things have moved on a lot since your time. The days when you could get a GCSE by showing some competence in the use of MS Word are long gone.

      Offspring #1 has just achieved a grade A half-GCSE in IT. To do this, she had to show that she could use Microsoft Frontpage, *and* Microsoft Publisher, *and* Microsoft Access. I keenly anticipate an A-level, when she's managed to unpack and install Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Outlook, and mastered the rudiments of turning a computer off and on again.

  3. Refugee from Windows
    Boffin

    Possible who's involved?

    Would it be the very participants are only using this indoctrinate them into their own company's products? Possibly if it were of a less restricted scope and rather more generic it may get more interest.

    Teach them about these things by exposing our youngsters to a variety of examples, not monolithic products. Luckily my brood know different as they've seen and used something other than the usual culprits.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Linux

      Sir, I have a letter from my dad

      Sir, I have a letter from my dad excusing me from <strike>P.E.</strike> using Windows.

  4. Christoph Silver badge

    It's perfectly simple

    Look at what has changed in teaching over the last few years

    Notice that those changes were imposed by teams of dedicated, skilled education experts to improve the system.

    So it can't possibly be those changes that caused it.

    Toss a coin.

    Heads - blame the teachers. Tails - blame the parents.

  5. Si 1

    Because it's about computing

    Kids don't want to learn about computing, they want to use computers to update their Facebook status and work out how to get around the parental controls.

    It's also possible it's because the courses are crap and out of date. When I did A-level Computing about 15 years ago I was not impressed. It was all about tape spools and punch cards, which were archaic even in the late '90s.

  6. mathnode
    FAIL

    morning discussion

    This came up in a discussion this morning with my boss. Essentially the education i received was shit, and the career advice I received was even shitter. Nowadays I am a sysadmin doing a Maths degree with the OU.

    Throughout two years of college, I did one module on programming, one on systems analysis, and one on networking. The only 3 useful modules out of 14 in two years! (For an AVCE in ICT) Needless to say this put me off uni for 5 years. My dear old Mum was taught binary at school in the 1960's, I wasn't.

    I have never been taught logic, IT, programming, how to problem solve, or the application of computers. Had to learn what a Karnaugh map was myself, whilst others had it fed to them. I should have been a gardener.

    I really regret doing what I did, if I'd had known I would have just done maths and physics at A-Level and gone on from there.

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  8. Anthony Allen
    Thumb Down

    Not surprised

    I left school in 1999 with the worst grade possible for IT. The course was a complete joke and nothing more than glorified PA work learning how to use spreadsheets and word processors. I wanted to learn more about networking and preferably programming, but our IT teacher was an ex PE teacher who fancied turning his hand to computers. Luckily I pretty much fell on my feet and have worked in IT ever since I was 17, and have worked my way up since.

    There are those who aren't so lucky, or if they were bored as me in those lessons must have thought they didn't fancy working with all that boring crap. Maybe things have changed in those 11 years, but I wouldn't be surprised if they haven't.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I saw "ICT" and "BCS"

    and thought, well, there's your problem right there :-)

    Somehow that pair of dated three-letter acronyms made me think of school computing when I was a lad... Box diagrams labelled "VDU" (cue sotto voce Beavis and Buthead snigger: "He said 'VD') and drawing flowcharts...

    Mind you, when I actually looked at a recent Scottish Computing (or whatever it's called) Higher, there was some good CS stuff in there, about binary trees and the like.

    What would be really good course content would be something like Logo (what happened to it?), which combined pretty neat stuff (drawing cool pictures), plus real CS concepts, like recursion.

    It depends on why numbers are falling: if the courses are full of "real CS" and people are dropping out because they expected game playing, then that's OK. If they're full of dross, and people are dropping out because it's full of dross, that's not so good.

    And speaking as a software engineering employer, I look for people who have the concepts of recursion, pointers, understanding of algorithms, not the latest fads in web-content creation (see Joel on Software for excellent discussion..)

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Its simple

    Spreadsheets and databases are boring

    Most kids dont like computers, they like games you can play on them, facebook, youtube, twitter, rate-my-picture-of-me-standing-half-naked-infront-of-mirror.com

    Build the whole thing round how they work and kids will be a lot more interested

  11. Jimmy Floyd
    Headmaster

    Anecdotal evidence

    When I were a nipper, computers were for the geeks and mathematically-minded only. In the late 90s, with the introduction of the Internet as a mainstream phenomenon, more people become interested because it was seen as good way to earn money.

    (I remember my University lecturer asking how many people were studying Computer Science primarily because they thought they could earn lots of cash. At least 50% put up their hands...)

    Now computers and the Internet are ubiquitous, and for the young generation coming through neither are particularly special; they're just utilities like gas or electricity. You might as well as why more kids aren't interested in becoming a sparky or a plumber.

    That's my tuppence worth, anyway.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Possibly

    It may be because it takes so much learning and development of skills to get even close to writing a computer game or other cool software, these days (certainly compared with BBC micro/Speccy days) that it just seems too much to even start to learn.

  13. Lottie

    maybe

    it's not the computers/ phones themselves that are breeding the interest, but the applications. When a school blocks youtube and twitter and whatnot, the computer just becoems a box.

    Also, ICT in schools is booooring! If they taught programming, then it'd be different, but when it's just a CLAIT course it's not *really* IT is it?

  14. Nick Ryan Silver badge
    FAIL

    Argh!

    The title pretty much sums up what I've experienced so far with "modern" computing courses... some things they really should consider but never do because they don't align neatly with incumbent monopoly practices and pointless government statistics:

    * At least at school level, stop calling it "science". Yes, technically it is, but there's still far too much dogma regarding the word science and geekiness that this puts off some pupils. Sad but true.

    * Teach the basics, not the high level specifics of particular OSes and applications - they can be farmed out to a later stage or a different course. Want to learn Word Processing? Take a business course - that's what they're there for. Oh, and teach Word Processing, don't teach Microsoft Word Processing.

    * Start from fundamentals and engage the pupils in how things work, rather than rhetorical parrot speak "teaching". Once pupils understand the basics on how something works they find it much easier and less daunting to understand the later concepts. Details don't have to be gone into, just the concepts.

    * Show the basic history of all computing, not just Wintel. There's a whole history of computing there and it's good to see progression, evolution of components and how we got to where we are now. This doesn't have to be dull, there are piles of old computers still around and even a history of consoles is interesting and informative in how they evolved to what they are now.

    * Don't teach idiotic stuff that every kid has grown up with, i.e. how to use Internet Explorer to browse the web. Don't teach kids how to make web pages - leave that to a design course. Teach them the basics behind how they work, but having them fire up DreamWeaver (or worse, FrontPage) to knock up pointless pages doesn't help them at all - those interested would like to host their own content, and this is far beyond normal GCSE level computing.

    - I know plenty of GCSE level kids that are interested in computing but are daunted and frustrated by how little they know and how little of it is useful. Most, even the most keen, are in reality capable of little more than clicking icons.

  15. Lexxy

    The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

    "especially when so many kids are obsessed with gadgets, computer games, social networking and playing music really bloody loudly on their mobile phones."

    Let me solve this for the Royal Society. Children would rather play games and socialize than actually do some real school work. That is all.

  16. GippleDocks
    FAIL

    not the curriculum but the teachers

    For sure the curriculum is dull and MS Office-centric. But, in my local area, the kids don't take the GCSE and A level because the schools can't get effective teachers. I've heard too many stories of new ICT teachers leaving within a school year and losing course work. Presumably there are too few adequate ICT teachers and the schools are simply churning the inadequate ones.

    In that context the kids don't take the courses because they can't risk the consequent poor grade at the end.

  17. dotdavid

    ICT?

    Maybe it's because the courses are always going to be out of touch with modern trends. I mean, when was the last time you heard the term ICT except in education and government circles?

  18. Gordon 10 Silver badge
    Happy

    Maybe stop calling it ICT?

    And call it IT like everyone outside of Govt and Education does.

    El Reg - Biting the Hand that feeds ICT.....

    1. irish donkey
      Megaphone

      So how many people here...(Show of hands) would take a paycut

      to go a teach kids Proper IT.....

      Not me???/ anybody else

    2. Tony Humphreys
      Go

      What about their phones

      It may take a long time and a dvd full of api's for a ps3 game, but not for a simple hangman game for a mobile phone - in Java.

      That would not be too much for a term of 10 hours.

      Although it may be way beyond the teacher, as it cant be done in Word. Shame, the kids would love it and it would really energise their thirst for development with something they can really achieve.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      the "C" means something

      For me, ICT as a profession means communications, protocols, error correction, modulation schemes, Shannon's theorem, BER EbNo, Viterbi, etcetera.

      Its quite possible to get through an ICT course without realising that there is actually a science able to understand and predict these things.

    4. Laurence Blunt
      Unhappy

      No. 1 problem with this is

      where the hell do you think they would get anyone who has the slightest ides of how to program a computer?

      I persoannly beleive that other than a basic computer skill course (at primary school?), we need to get rid of most IT in schools and actually teach real subjects.

      As it is the real scienses have been dumbed down to the level that when my mother read though a Physics GCSE paper a few years ago she managed to over 90% correct. Not bad for lady in 70's who never studied Physics (or any other science), left school at 14 and had significant interuptions in her education due to Germans dropping bombs on her school!

      And they have managed to make them even easier now!

  19. AngusH

    Pedantic teaching and too much repetition

    One of the things I remember being annoyed with was that regardless of previous qualifications I kept having to take courses that repeated the same content.

    Did word processing, spreadsheets, etc at GCSE? I had to then take an identical processing+spreadsheets course during A-Levels. (CLAIT)

    Then again at university, regardless of previous qualifications (and that I was doing a computer science degree!), I had to prove that I was capable of using a word processor and a spreadsheet. (which took about a couple of hours to work through the exam, IIRC, but it was more the principle of the thing)

    Nobody ever accepted any of the earlier qualifications as proof of anything.

    Teaching people stuff they may already know isn't going to be a particularly useful thing to do, especially the kind of course where much of it ends up being the pedantic "Make the second paragraph bold and the title 18pt Arial" kind of thing.

    Give young people a placement test first and then teach the ones who can already use a word processor something more interesting to learn.

  20. adam payne Silver badge

    GCSE ICT? where?

    When I was at school they didn't offer a GCSE in ICT and in sixth form they didn't offer it at A-level or BTEC.

    If they are going to offer the course it has to be interesting and relevant to the people taking it otherwise the students will just switch off.

  21. Matt Brigden
    Thumb Up

    Any surprise they get bored

    When unless your in an extremely well funded school or college your taught on out of date hardware and software pensioned off years back . Its about time the big names woke upto the fact that if they supplied schools with the latest and greatest then the pupils are more likely to go on and use that equipment and software brands themselves . I adored gcse IT becuase our school had the then brand new rm nimbus machines running the cutting edge windows 3.1 and the two most energetic and enthusiastic teachers I have ever met . We were taught how to really use those machines and how to get the best out of it all . Had I spent that time on word I would of been bored rigid . The entire school system needs an overhaul tbh .

  22. AC-This-Isn't-Facebook

    title required

    It is like all secondary education.. your not taught a subject or topic, your taught how to answer the questions that will be on the exam paper. And the teachers have a bloody good idea what questions will be on a paper, as they are rarely too different.

    And having seen for many years what happens in a GCSE IT lesson, I am not surprised kids get bored.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    Just a device to them

    The problem is that computers are tools to most people today. Anyone under 20 has never seen a world without being within 30 yards of a keyboard. The computer to kids today means as much as a car or a TV, it's just another device available for use.

    To people like me, late 30's, we got computers when were around that magic 8-12 year age range, it was like Star Trek/Star Wars in your own home. All those SciFi comics and TV shows we watched up tot age of 8 or 9, we were getting our first taste of 21st Century, we wanted it, it was so exciting. I have to admit that over the years of IT career, I have lost a little of that sparkle, but I retain enough to still enjoy my job.

    I teach my kids about what inside the magic box, one of the few things I can teach them and I know they will have a little more interest in IT than some other kids, but I won't ram it down their throats, that's just boring and unnecessary. When they ask me for more info about what's in the computer case, then I will happily tell them more. I will teach them what nasties are about and how to look after themselves in the connected world and how to try to not get fooled by the scumbags out there.

    The computer is just an appliance and how many kids are interested in learning what's inside a dishwasher or a fridge? Some I know, but not that many I bet.

  24. mittfh
    Boffin

    Curriculum

    Having attempted secondary school ICT teaching before choosing a more rewarding career, here are a few reasons:

    * A large emphasis in many curricula on spreadsheets and databases, which many (correction: almost all) pupils instinctively regard as complicated / too hard / boring by the time they reach Year 9.

    * A lack of relevance to the wider world. The vast majority of them won't be creating databases from scratch or using nested equations (e.g. IF(AND(B1<23,B1>5),"Yes","No") in spreadsheets. And the contexts are so corny - mobile phone tariff comparison, five a day, membership of an after-school club.

    * AiDA / CiDA / DiDA in particular expect 14 year olds to engage in self-guided project work - something they're unlikely to have done beforehand. The qualification series looks as though it was designed for the post 16 market, but is aimed at the 14-16 range. There's also huge potential for dishonest marking - the teacher is supposed to mark them down if they need any assistance / guidance during the project (theoretically, pupils should spent 2/3 of the course learning skills, 1/3 doing the project. In reality, some schools kick start the project after only 1/2 term preparation. Introducing the skills in another context doesn't work as they can't 'map' them across contexts.)

    It'll be interesting to see what the experience of schools is with the newfangled Applied ICT diploma, since the diplomas were allegedly designed by industry sector skills councils...

  25. irish donkey
    FAIL

    too dull too dull with stupid teachers

    The kids that we need to be attracted into ICT are so afar ahead of their teachers in what they can do its gets kind of embarrassing.

    How can you possible interest kids in writing a CV using Word when at home they can download somebody else's chop it up and rename it as their own. Post it on 20 websites get 30 job offers within a week paying more than their teachers gets paid.

    In my daughters school the kids helped the teacher rewrite their CV showed them how to post it online so the teacher could get a proper job!

    My daughter passed that class. ......but I certainly wouldn't advise her to take it as a subject.

  26. Just Thinking

    Two things

    How much ICT to most people actually need to know? Most home computers are basically used to access the internet, mostly to socialise or buy stuff. A PC is expensive, insecure and unnecessarily complex way of accessing the web, and as soon as a decent, cheap, diskless netbook/tablet arrives, the home computer will once again be owned only by a minority of geeks. Or maybe not even that, the geeks will just use their netbooks to do slightly more geeky than average things on the web.

    And computer science? Anything subject which needs to have the word science in its title isn't a science. Think sports science, domestic science. They don't call it physics science do they?

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Quality of Teachers ?

    I have never yet met a teacher that is equipped to teach the average kid about IT.

    The vast majority of the kids know more about the subject than their teacher, and the content and quality of the available courses provokes little interest.

    The Royal Society needs to wake up and look at what the kids need, and not create syllabi based on what is probably their own skill sets !

    1. matt 115

      google:

      Microsoft Academic Alliance

    2. Laurence Blunt
      Troll

      This reminds me of school aged about 7...

      ...when decimalisation came.

      All the old teachers thought is was a big deal and had to teach us kids how the new units worked.

      The fact that I and most other kids of that era had never had more than a sixpence to spend, the fact that the pound had fewer pence and coins all had obvious numeric values in place of shillings, crowns and guineas wasn't an issue.

      The same thing happened with calculators around 1980, and now its the turn of PC's in schools.

      Most of these classes are about a necessary as a GCSE in how to use the program guide on a Sky Box.

    3. Sooty

      slightly different for me

      for GCSE I did an Information Systems course, and a lot of the people on it, thought they had signed up for IT, ie muck about on a wordprocessor. There was a basic computing course running as well, that was mandatory, but that was exactly as described, how to change fonts and insert pictures into microsoft word.

      At A-Level again, there were different levels, there was computing, which involved knowing things, and programming etc, and then there was IT, which was mucking about on the net and diddling in MSpaint & MS word.

      All the serious courses appear to have been removed now, and replaced with mostly using a pc normally. Every year we get a couple of pupils on work experience, and they are always amazed by what we show them... Basic computing concepts and a few bits of simple programming. Even the classic, describe how to make a cup of tea, example of process modelling seems to be a novel concept.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      title

      Nah, on brand new Dell and HP machines using Office 2007 / 2010.

      Hardly out of date

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Two things

      "And computer science? Anything subject which needs to have the word science in its title isn't a science. Think sports science, domestic science. They don't call it physics science do they?"

      Ditto any subject that has the word "education" in the name. Physical Education, Personal and Social Education, Religious Education. No thanks I think I'll pass. Where are the Maths Education and English Education courses?

      And while we're on the subject of nonsense in schools, get rid of the guidance/grief/jobs/drugs councilors. I've never spoken to anyone with the word "councilor" in their job title who wasn't a complete retard.

    6. Jinxter
      Alert

      RE: Two things

      This is clearly a misunderstanding of the concept of user against developer.

      I entirely agree that your bog standard user will only need the simple concepts of internet browsing, email read/writing and image editing. This is why things like the iPad will continue to grow in popularity.

      However don't underestimate the importance or the massively expanding nature of computer sciences which look at the development of neural networking, artificial intelligence, high speed image recognition etc etc etc. These developing regions require encompasing knowledge of both mathematics and physics to both understand the history of these concepts and help define the future.

      It is quite simply wrong and misleading to attempt to group IT studies (using a computer) and Computer Science (developing information systems)

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There are a number of simple reasons for this

    1. Most high school and indeed A-level IT teachers are idiots. If you correct them on the difference between a megabyte and a megabit they'll just tell you, "that's the way I've always done it", oh so that's okay then.

    2. Most GCSE and A-level courses are narrow in scope and thoroughly boring. You're taught how to use Microsoft Office on Microsoft Windows and little/nothing else. And Microsoft are going to change the interface beyond recognition in 3 years time anyway so you might as well not bother.

    3. The work is an endless cycle of documenting screen shots. As a technical person I found it to be the easiest work I'd ever done but most people find it tedious beyond belief. And at the end of the day their documentation is completely useless anyway so again, they might as well not bother.

    Maybe if they were put to work documenting an open source project and the best person's work got submitted they might take some pride in it. But if the only person who will ever see their hours of work is a shady nobody with questionable hygiene marking exam papers in a dark room at gun point - why bother?

  29. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    GCSE IT Should Be ...

    .. this is a computer, this is a screw driver, Open the PC and discover the parts inside ...

    The reason GCSE IT is so slack is that school IT teachers are old English, Design Technology, (insert subject here) teachers, that had a passing intrest in IT and ended up taking up the subject.

    These teachers then go on to end up writing the syabuses, leaving them sticking to what they used to teach, because they know of nothing else.

    Get proper professionals in to train these teachers in proper IT, not "business IT"

    1. Daniel Evans

      RE "this is a computer, this is a screw driver"

      Which was how I learnt all about computers from my dad (who used to build servers as a part-time self-employed job). Needless to say, I'm happy enough to throw in a new HDD myself, whilst being mildly amused when I hear people complain about how much it cost them to do the same at "the computer shop".

  30. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Trouble is ........

    they don't need the engineering skills to do what they want to do so the vast majority of them are, and will remain, only consumers.

    Those that may be interested in the technology behind the consumer face are soon put off by the way it is taught; they would be more interested in how to set up a games server and home network or how to hack a mates mobile phone or the school server. All subjects usually avoided in the education environment but learnt by those that are interested by the time they are 13.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ..like every other post on here..

    I too had an appalling story of IT education, basically having to take the brute force approach of "if you wont teach me, then i will teach myself".

    But perhaps the lack of any links between ICT and maths (as they are terrified they'll scare kids with the idea of hard work), and also the IT industry itself and the lack of any job security and constant talk of india and china, i don't blame kids for thinking its not for them.

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