back to article ICT classes in school should be binned – IT biz body

Schools should stop teaching ICT lessons in their current form as the subject is failing both pupils and employers, according to trade bod Intellect. "We believe that ICT in its current form should not be a statutory programme of study," says John Hoggard, Intellect education honcho. "Takeup of ICT courses is falling – GCSE …

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  1. Real Ale is Best
    Boffin

    To be honest...

    It would be much better to give children typing lessons.

    They would have a huge advantage later in life if they left school being able to touch type.

  2. Jon 52

    its bollocks

    When I was in high school 15 years ago they made the french teacher do ICT as she had some computer experience ( i think she had one of those word processor units). Meanwhile we had been programming our BBC micro in primary school, she asked me one day how I got the little * above the 8, so I showed her the shift key.

    I stopped caring at that point and just rushed the whole years work off in about 1 week and still got top marks. A bunch of us formed our own computer "club" in lessons and taught ourselves programming and advanced office techniques from books and computer magazines. While the other half the class struggled with copy/paste.

    To be fair to the teacher she recognised the status quo was rubbish and encouraged us to do this.

  3. mittfh

    Sensible idea...

    Having spent time in the past working as both a school ICT technician and (briefly) as an ICT teacher, the majority of pupils found the concept of applying the same skill across multiple contexts an alien idea (probably because it's a skill they didn't need to apply in almost any other subject, apart from say English, where the skills would have been embedded at primary level where skills / subjects aren't so highly compartmentalised). And cross-curricular IT generally fails to make best use of the technology, as the teachers themselves aren't familiar with it. If it can be properly embedded in the curriculum, so much the better. And *please* dump the emphasis on spreadsheets and database design, which tend to make up a significant portion of most GCSE-level ICT curricula but are a huge turn-off for all but the brightest, because whatever context you use, they have the preconception that spreadsheets and databases are hard. And let's face it, how many of them are going to be using nested IF statements or designing databases in their eventual career? I guess not many. Currcula involving ICT across both dedicated subject ICT and cross-curricular ICT need to be designed to teach skills that *will* be useful to the pupils, regardless of their chosen career. One simple example: sourcing images that are free to use and quoting the correct URL, rather than images dot google.

    Several schools I worked at had ICT suites that were more-or-less dedicated to cross-curricular ICT (i.e. virtually no subject ICT was taught there). Needless to say, they were the most 'unloved' rooms, especially as they were favourite locations to dump the "alternative curriculum" pupils (i.e. those for whom a full GCSE course would be too demanding) - and consequently they were the most vandalised rooms as well, vandalism ranging from creatively rearranging the keys on the keyboard to spell out expletives to removing blanking plates to castrating the mice (in the days when optical mice were significantly more expensive than the other sort)... not to mention swapping the cables from computers placed back-to-back and flipping the voltage selector on the PSU.

    And even if the teachers are reasonably familiar with ICT, the entire class has to be watched like a hawk, as little Johnny who looks so studious might actually be playing Line Rider...

    1. Marvin the Martian
      Alert

      Even more incredibly,

      The first generation of programmers never followed any computing course!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        FAIL

        Likewise ...

        the first doctors, pilots, surgeons, dentists, builders, architects, engineers, ...

        Let's save money and time and do away with all training. Learn on the job.

        Personally, I find most "self-taught" "programmers" dreadful, with no idea of design, testing, standards, clean code, comments or working with others. But it is amazing the amount of cockiness it gives them. Shame they do not teach themselves humility.

        Minor gripe, when did British people start poncing up from primary to "high school" instead of "secondary"? Ugh, yanky-isms. Do they go to proms at the end of term and watch cheer leaders from the bleachers while wearing baseball caps and swallowing hamburgers? Sadly, I fear they do.

        1. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

          Re: Likewise ...

          My secondary was called [place name] High School. So I say high school. It's shorter, anyway, saves a few syllables. Nothing to get upset about.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Flame

          @Likewise

          "I find most "self-taught" "programmers" dreadful, with no idea of design, testing, standards, clean code, comments or working with others"

          In my experience, as an employer, I find that self-taught programmers actually enjoy and care about the job and produce better results, as opposed to those churned out from higher education who are mainly in it for the money and don't care how shoddily they do the job as long as it just about works.

          As an employer, I'll take the former over the latter every time.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          WTF?

          same time as....

          They started renaming Comprehensive Schools, Community Colleges. I went to a Comp, it’s now called a community college. STOP BULLSHITING THINGS call a spade a spade, it’s a fecking school not a college. A college is somewhere you go after you finish school.

          I think it was a new labour thing, they did their usual, call something a fancy name to try and fool the voters.

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          High Schools

          I went to a "High School" way back in 1977, and they'd been around in my area some time before that. It largely depends on the system the LEA implements. Its either Primary (5-10), Secondary (11-19) or Primary (5-8), Middle(9-12), High(13-19).

          We never did "proms", graduation ceremonies, etc.

        5. The Alpha Klutz
          FAIL

          anybody who knows anything worthwhile is self taught

          """Personally, I find most "self-taught" "programmers" dreadful"""

          Personally, I find most "self-taught" "managers" dreadful. Shame they do not teach themselves humility.

        6. Vic

          Re: Likewise

          > Let's save money and time and do away with all training. Learn on the job.

          Without wanting to detract from your irony, it does rather fail in the IT sector because the formal training is so often crap.

          I've interviewed hundreds[1] of grads who claim all sorts of coding capabilities, and can quote verbatim from the text books on demand - but when given a simple design problem, just cannot do the job. They all seem to be educated to pass exams, not to solve real-world problems.

          > when did British people start poncing up from primary to "high school" instead of "secondary"

          It's quote common these days.

          > Do they go to proms at the end of term

          Yes.

          Vic.

          [1] No, I'm not exaggerating.

        7. Anonymous Coward
          Boffin

          Education ain't what it used to be...

          Primary / Secondary

          OR

          First / Middle / High

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-tier_education

        8. sandman

          High Schools

          I think you'll find that the term High School has been around for quite a while in the UK, the one in Stamford, Lincolnshire since 1877 for example.

        9. fatchap
          Troll

          High School?

          I went to public school like a proper Englishman should.

          Bloody commoners.

        10. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Nothing Wrong With The Name "High School"

          From where I'm from the local L.E.A ran a three school system. Therefore we had, primary, middle and High Schools.

    2. __PB__
      Thumb Up

      Couldn't agree more...

      The qwerty keyboard is now one of the main input devices for most things in modern life - being able to use it quickly and efficiently is a great skill (one I don't have) but the fact that it is no longer taught in school is kind of rediculous...

      1. Disco-Legend-Zeke
        Thumb Up

        Touch Typing Should Be...

        ...required as soon as the student's hands are big enough.

        Word processing should integrated into Writing Class, Spreadsheeting into maths, etc.

        By the 8th or 9th year, students would not only have career enhancing USER skills, but those with a knack could take specialist courses.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Headmaster

        "rediculous"

        Spelling is similarly ill-taught, it appears.

    3. Naughtyhorse
      WTF?

      how many of them...

      are going to be using nested IF statements or designing databases in their eventual career?

      well prolly none of them with that attitude!

      maths, physics, chemistry, and code herding are all hard.

      bloody hard

      'cos if it was easy then everybody would be doing it.

      that is kinda the point in aspiring to be a 21st century, high tech, high value, high employment economy.

      but if as you say all our kids are thick as pigshit and cant be arsed to apply themselves, then i guess closing all those factories in the 70's and 80's was a really dumb move.

      cos stuffing washers into the top of a shock igzorber for 8 hours a day 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year is a piece of piss

    4. Pinkerton
      Troll

      Meh!

      Be nice if we could get them able to read and write properly, first.

      "Mum! Mum! We learnt typing at school today."

      "That's nice, dear, what did you type?"

      "Dunno, can't read!"

  4. The Alpha Klutz

    "GCSE courses in ICT show a 57 per cent decline in numbers between 2005 and 2010."

    Because schools aren't letting kids take the GCSEs, opting instead for easier more worthless courses (that of course the schools claim are worth some ridiculous number of GCSEs, such as 10 or 20).

  5. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Even in the early 90's

    My ICT lessons did not cover general computing! Just using a acorn to paint pictures and write vector drawings... with a demo of prestel! All for a GCSE.....

  6. googolplex

    Keep compulsory IT, but review the syllabus

    Having seen the compulsory GCSE half course 6 years ago when I did my GNVQ, it's not really IT skills, it's "how to use Microsoft Office" skills. My siblings are currently doing the compulsory IT element in school, and it seems to be much of the same.

    I do think these basic skills can be useful in business, as otherwise people can be somewhat lost, and students would need these skills for the other lessons.

    However, the coursework for these qualifications typically requires students to churn out vast amounts of stuff like posters and letters and websites (using a WYSIWYG editor of course), which seems rather pointless as they must contain mostly pre-set text.

    Looking at it, I think keeping compulsory basic IT training in schools up to GCSE level is worthwhile, as it should remove the idiocy some users show before they enter the workplace, but perhaps the syllabus should be reviewed, as things like staying safe online (i.e. why you shouldn't download this program even though it says your computer is full of viruses) are likely to be of more benefit than churning out posters and websites.

    1. Yamikotai

      It still is

      I finished my GCSE in ICT only the year before last, and it still consists of exactly that. How to use Microsoft Office (with not even the slightest mention of any other office suite options).

    2. Dave Bell

      Seeing the results...

      I took a very basic IT course, a few years ago, so as to have a piece of paper to wave in front of HR departments.

      About half those taking the course were fresh out of schooi, and still struggling with the basics.

      One problem seems to be that the curriculum development process can be so much slower to respond to changes than the real world of computer use. It wasn't quite so ridiculous to talk about Netscape in 2004, but there were a couple of obsolete search engines listed in the notes.

      The computer graphics test--lay out a CD cover--was simple enough (and I was getting bored) that I did it without touching the mouse.

      I obviously don't know about the current standards, but it struck me then that something such as the EDCL was a useful target for every school leaver, and a minimum standard of knowledge for every teacher, while a GCSE should be reserved for something a bit more advanced.

      Somebody earning an ICT GCSE should have some idea about programming. That's a step up from the computer literacy everyone should have if they can get a good GCSE pass.

      1. John Angelico
        Thumb Up

        "How to use MS products"

        The same applies in the colonies.

        And naturally, the next time MS releases a new version, the revised placement of menu items will render all that painstaking memorisation useless.

        Australian OS/2 zealot...

    3. Marvin the Martian
      Headmaster

      But what do the teachers know?

      It's not that far from the ICT skills demanded of all newly qualified teachers...

      http://www.tda.gov.uk/trainee-teacher/qts-skills-tests/ict/practice-materials.aspx

      (ICT is one of three tests, others are maths -- in the sense of reading histograms and calculating averages -- and language):

  7. Kyoraki
    Paris Hilton

    What else would you expect...

    ... When the blind are leading the blind? Most teachers in secondary schools know no more about computers than the students themselves, with the exception of those 1 day seminars they have on inset days.

    Get some specialist teachers in there, who know what they are actually on about.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Title Title

    ICT is taxpayer sponsored Microsoft product training, it creates no understanding of how software works only where M$ hide the functions.

    I say bring back RSA typing for those that want to be typists and Computer Science for those that want to be more than just users.

    1. Jon 52

      hiding functions

      Yep once failed a section on an automated test in "IT" as it asked me to copy paste.

      Ctrl+c ... computer gave me a fail

      Ok go to edit menu as it is always there (showing my age before ribbon)... fail

      I had failed my two attempts.

      aparently I had to use the old toolbar and click on the icons.

    2. Marvin the Martian

      School may have changed since your days.

      There's very strong pressure on subject-qualified teachers now; the days of the physics teacher/nerd also doing ICT is mostly over...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Unhappy

        Not changed that much

        My 12 year old daughter ended up, effectively, giving a lesson on Scratch (http://scratch.mit.edu/) because the teacher didn't have a clue on either the application or general programming principles.

    3. mamsey

      Trouble is

      Anyone with decent skills in I(C)T isn't goign to want to teach a bunch of school kids for peanuts...

  9. Danny 14 Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    no support

    The problem is support. ICT is seen as a geeky subject, then when students get to university and cannot use stylesheets in word to format their thesis they fall over.

    All other subjects expect ICT knowledge such as PE making movies of performances or Drama editting sequences. Music, Physics, even Art all need ICT skills. Having a curriculum run around spreadsheets and databases is stupid. At least the ICT iGCSE has a lot of practical information in there and actually applies to the modern world. It didnt help that the previous AQA chief examiner was a 60 year old maths tutor who simply used PCs to make spreadsheets. I wonder what those exams revolved around...

  10. DN4
    Thumb Down

    interactive and multimedia technology

    Interactive and multimedia technology across all lessons. Yeah, that's exactly what you need if you want the pupils to *learn* something in the lessons.

  11. Aldous
    FAIL

    MS Office 101

    or at least it was when i did GCSE ICT/DT in the tail end of the 90's. completely pointless basic word processing and very basic excel. It would be so much better if they changed it up to include some basic programming (what ever language, variables loops basic OO etc) they could even make it related to Jesus phones/androids and get students interested.

    Throw in a bit of network theory (ISO model, basic tcp/ip) and you'd have kids with a bit more of a clue as to if they want to go into IT and not just think everyone in IT is a MS word jockey

  12. Ian Yates

    Computer Science

    I think "ICT" (having taught it and know people that do) should be dropped and a proper Computer Science syllabus be added as an optional GCSE.

    I learnt how to use Office at school and how to program VBA at A-level. It wasn't until Uni that I really got in to memory structure and OOP. I'd have loved proper CS courses at GCSE/A-level, but they just weren't/aren't there.

    1. Francis Fish
      Badgers

      Sounds ideal, but

      Anyone with those skills is either working in a job that doesn't require all the form filling and govt BS, or is teaching at Uni level.

      They can't afford people who can teach that stuff. So they teach MS and trivial web design (using MS tools, so you don't get to understand HTML).

      No idea how to fix this one.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    teach logic, teach learning...

    ...meanwhile, back in the 80's my weekly college computing class was a 40 minute snooze to the dull drone of a computer technician... no-one learned anything. Fortunately, having taught myself BASIC at home as a teenager I not only got awarded full marks before handing in the final coursework or sitting the exam; but lots of experience teaching the rest of my classmates how to solve that weeks practical exercise.

    It would seem that nothing much has changed in almost 30 years.

  14. Paul Powell

    It's the marking that's the problem

    In order to enforce a curriculum and have measured 'standards' ICT (or cumputer studies as it was in my day) is getting killed.

    The reason a class is asked to turn in near identical posters is because that's a lot easier to compare, mark, and show that we have reached a standard.

    Children then become like dogs doing tricks - with little comprehension of why except they get a treat of approval at the end of it.

    I wouldn't mind the MS Office stuff as people desperately need educating. The problem is that it is stuck in the 90's teaching bold, italic, underline, and font sizes rather than styles which amount to semantic markup. In excel people really need to understand how to construct a formula that matches a given equation. They need to understand how to aggregate data, use pivot tables etc. These are the things which will make you an invaluable employee.

  15. Colin Brett
    IT Angle

    Nice report

    Short and to the point and I quite agree with its conclusions. I note with interest the members of the Intellect Group (HP, Intel UK, Oracle UK, MS, Accenture, Logica, LinuxIT to name a few). These companies should at least know what IT is all about and want to recruit the best and brightest, rather than the "I can do spreadsheets me" ICT experts the UK school system churns out. They don't want to spend all the money retraining these people.

    The question is: can Intellect Group get anyone with real influence to read it and change the curriculum?

    Somewhat off topic, though. As the father of a 7 year old, you could easily take Intellect's report and global search-and-replace ICT with just about any subject area to accurately describe the education system in the UK.

    Colin

    Icon says it all: Where's the IT angle? Because it's definitely NOT in the UK school system.

  16. Alastair Dodd 1

    stop calling it ICT

    would help - I mean Information Communication Technology? Communication IS information so just call it IT - rather than use a redundant word... virtually nobody but schools call it ICT anyway

  17. Matt Brigden
    Happy

    Sad but true

    It was plain old IT when I did it . Showed me word processing,databases and spreadsheets,DTP etc . Fair enough I loved computers so it was all gravy to me . Was more shocked when doing it in college I knew more than the tutor who was oblivious to things like shortcut keys and thought the easiest way to open a file was open the application and then click file and browse for it . Very funny when you see the light of realisation dawn on someone that just double clicking the file itself is faster and they have been doing it the long way for years . Piqued my interest enough to want to go further though and get at the actual hardware underneath .

    The problem now is most kids have an almost innate understanding of computers so traditional IT teaching needs to be updated to reflect this . The "This is the power button approach" wont cut it any more .

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Unredundant. Also, nuance and shit.

      (i) Information need not be communicated, and communications need not be informative.

      (ii) Huh. One concept appears to be countable, the other not. Ponder on't.

      (iii) Redundancy is good.

      (iv) Can't remember the last time I heard anyone invoke either IT or ICT.

      (v) Lazy taxonomies. We had orthography and logic in the ink age ...

  18. Elmer Phud
    IT Angle

    What's the pont?

    As computers are now so enmeshed with our daily lives treating it as a separate subject is pointless. Loads of people drive these days but I've never seen a school with car mechanics or driving skills on the curriculum.

    I don't see how it's so 'special', primary kids do a lot of stuff with computers and don't see it as anything other than 'normal'. Turtles have been replaced with Lego and programmable cars. Adding the term 'computer' tends to muddy things - let's start with adults instead. Let's begin by insisting that none of the devices at home are anything but computer-driven machines that we programme (albeit on a very simple level). "I don't know anythng about computers!" is the wail while they use the iPhone at work to set the recorder for telly. How many kitchens would fall silent if the computers were taken away? would anyone have central heating?

    ICT needs to be dragged screaming in to the 20th century - I bet there are ICT courses that spend time discussing fax machines when the pupils will never use one, ever. (yes the 'fax machine' predates the telephone but so what?). Mobile data transfer is what they are familiar with, that and downloading 'codecs'.

    This isn't a troll but how about even giving them Scratch to play with? - especially as it's free. (cue the 'you can't teach programing like that etc. etc.)

  19. san1t1
    Megaphone

    comp sci

    It's a shame that it's so MSFT sponsored, especially when really cool software like Scratch exists http://scratch.mit.edu/ (which my daughter could use at age 8) and when the basics of putting together a website really aren't difficult.

    I mean, how hard would it be for every school to give every child who wanted one a subdomain on their school website, with reasonable Ts&Cs of course?

    I got my first compsci training back in the early eighties at primary school - and at that point I was programming - in school - in Logo - to move a Turtle on the floor to draw circles - we were queueing up to have a go! i guess it was a golden age.

    Seriously, create a new discipline of office skills, and use that to teach productivity suites. Get every ICT room a couple of Nabaztags, some Arduiono kits, or some other kind of programmable hardware, and get the kids to build things. Learn about software from hardware. You don't learn anything from nested if statements in Excel except that you don't want to do them, a fact which remains true for most software professionals!

  20. Magnus_Pym
    FAIL

    upskilling?

    I know the current curriculum may not be up to par but 'up-skilling' FFS.

    "Our member companies tell us that they often have to spend considerable time up-skilling employees"

    Yes. it's really called training or at least it used to be when investing in business wasn't just about buying a new machine. At one time companies took on apprentices and would 'up-skill' them for a considerable time until they were ready to take on the work. It's what companies are supposed to do to get the work force they want rather than whinge about how the lack of ready trained/fully qualified staff is holding back their business.

    1. Vic

      Re: upskilling?

      > At one time companies took on apprentices

      Yes, but few new employees *are* apprentices any more.

      > It's what companies are supposed to do to get the work force they want

      Sort of.

      But when you're employing someone who's *supposed* to be trained already, it's something of a disappointment to find out they don't even know the basics of the job.

      Apprentices are expected to have a lot to learn. Graduates and - even worse - seasoned professionals are supposed to have covered the bulk of it already.

      Vic.

      1. Magnus_Pym

        But...

        ... they are not talking about graduates or professionals. They are talking about IT lessons in schools.

  21. R J Tysoe

    Have they tried...

    ... turning it off and on again?

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Troll

    Separate the issues out.,...

    Computer literacy is different from Technical ability - make basic Computer Use a part of the English curriculum and make Technical practices part of the Science curriculum.

    Office, basic Mobile Phone Use, Setting Timers / Clocks, Email, "Multimedia" (ugh) = Computer Literacy

    Programming, Data Comms, Cabling, Hardware Maintenance, Mobile phone config = Technical Practices

    This way everyone gets the basics but the geeks can specialise. Simples.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    Are schools for education or training?

    Ever read that story, "The Machine Stops", by E.M. Forster? He seems to have been very prescient and we are not so far from his vision.

    The nub of the matter is, schools were, originally, meant to equip one for life and further development. Job-specific training came later, at a time when one had got the basic education to make reasonably informed choices and still to have choices, while being educated in the culture and basic, general skills of one's society.

    Schools should educate, not train, not dragoon children into being little workers. So, teach culture, literacy, numeracy and a problem.solving, questioning attitude to the world around them, rather than forcing them into "work-related" lessons on computing, accountancy, brick laying or whatever. Open their minds to the possibilities to come, that will certainly differ from those today.

    Computing has got a place as a tool, just as pen and paper. But do not treat it as a universal, essential panacea for all subjects at all levels. Does one really need a computer to study history, English or basic arithmetic, algebra and geometry? I would argue that a child should master the basics of literacy and numeracy before a computer is even allowed in the classroom. A student should understand searching the literature, writing to and visiting peers and researchers for papers and so on before sitting in front of a search machine that limits him to what is on-line and matches the algorithm of Google or Yahoo or Bing.

    Oh well, suppose even reading is out now: just let the machine read it out to you; exercise? Let the machine massage you and move your limbs. Drama? Surely the machine can do a better job of designing and making sets, costumes and lighting than a mere human.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    shame

    I was the last year of 'O' Levels (class of 87) and did 'O' level computer studies as it was called then. The course was actually ok, you did do programning, BBC basic, and did some logic stuff and how systems worked etc

  25. bazinsane

    let's learn micro$0ft

    I taught adult ed in manc for a couple of terms. The ICT course as they put it was based on CLAIT and it has nothing to do with IT. What the course is used for is to teach the latest version of microsoft office products ( preferably 2 versions behind) on clapped out PCs which aren't up to the job.

    ICT is not relevant - windows is not relevant. What we have is a bunch of kids who are brilliant at social networking but couldn't fight their way out of a command line.

  26. Eponymous Cowherd
    Thumb Down

    Its badly named in the first place.

    From hearing what my kids are taught in what are laughably called "information and communications technology" classes, it appear to be more secretarial skills than anything else.

    It a bit like calling driving lessons "Automotive and Engineering Technology".....

  27. InITForTheMoney

    I couldn't agree more...

    I'm a 28 year old self employed Infrastructure Architect, I'd like to show you where education gave me a leg up and where it let me down on the way to where I am now.

    I started secondary school in 1993 at what was the 13th and last City Technology College ever built, it was brand new and my year group was the first and (to start with) only year group... it gradually opened year by year as we progressed. It took in a cross section of pupils from different backgrounds and eventually became one of the first Academies. It is now the biggest Academy in the Bristol area.

    During my first year, we were given touch typing lessons (I've never met anyone else of my generation who was taught to type at school... why?) and basic lessons in Desktop Publishing (using Clarisworks) on Macs, twice a week for 30 minutes (outside of the normal curriculum), at the time we had the largest network of Mac's anywhere in europe. The use of IT was central to every lesson that we had, up to the point where we began GCSE study, at this point the curriculum was more strict and we were only able to use it for certain things. Every student had what we would now consider to be basic skills in DTP, spreadsheets, databases (Filemaker Pro) email and using the internet (via our JANET connection) by the age of 13. At the time this was almost unheard of in the local area.

    I took nine GCSE's and a part one GNVQ in Information Technology (by this time we had a suite of Windows NT4.0 PC's as well). The IT subject matter taught in the IT course was woefully inadequate... almost the entire time the class thought it was being taught to suck eggs. Most of us that took it had taken a strong interest in IT (as you might expect given we were surrounded by it) and would help with maintenance of the IT systems and computer rooms around the school, we were expecting to learn things that would be a bit more advanced. The network admin at our school, while not being incredibly strong in IT used us extensively and encouraged us to learn, we would do builds, installs and patches on workstations (Mac & Windows) for her. Some of us also did things with Linux, SunOS and SGI Irix.

    Of the group of 48 who took the Part 1 IT GNVQ, 2 actually finished the coursework, not because it was hard, but because it was so useless and boring, we could have proved all of our skills in all of the areas the GNVQ required in the first week by going through work we had produced over the previous 3 years, however, the format of the course insisted that we follow planned exercises in sequence that added up to a lot less than we were capable of. Worst of all... we had to submit all of our completed activities in PRINTED form, not on floppy or CD... printed. You could pass with distinction if you just made it look like it worked, the examiner never got a floppy copy and would never know.

    What the course taught was how to use Excel, Word, Powerpoint and how to create a basic database in MS Access 97.

    I then went on to A-Level, I'd been told the Advanced GNVQ in IT would be more my thing, since it would teach more advanced IT subject matter. I started it, realised it was going over old ground for at least the first year and that it was going to be equally useless. I quit the course and took an A-Level in computing as an evening class at another College, this again focused on MS Office and Access 2000 (I at least learned some VB this time), but because it wasn't a GNVQ you could be more creative with your coursework and rather than multiple choice questions you could give proper answers for the exams. It was better than the GNVQ but it still covered a lot of old ground and I question the value of most of it.

    After VIth form I did a gap year with an organisation called the year in Industry, working in an IT department of an engineering consultancy, where frankly they were amazed that I could type, knew what a CAD package was, could build web pages and knew something of linux. I cant thank everyone at "Scott Wilson" enough for their nurturing attitude while I was with them, without doubt one of the best decisions I ever made was to do my gap year with them.

    I then went to university... where what I was taught for the 1st year was effectively the computing A-Level again (I'd used none of it in my gap year), but with some Java (taught very badly), some C (taught slightly less badly), some completely useless maths about matrices and something about logic gates, which I have yet to find any practical use for. However, the university was a Cisco academy and I did learn some useful stuff about IP and routing, which I still use. I dropped out after the first year.

    The system fails because:

    * Each stage of the education process repeats the last rather than extending it, this means if you start on the track early there is no incentive at the later stages, since you wont learn much new

    * All IT courses assume no knowledge and don't allow you to start further along and prove your ability

    * IT teachers and university lecturers seem to have very little knowledge of the needs of businesses or the IT industry

    * Schools don't have the right equipment or software to teach, they don't adapt with industry and are often left behind the curve

    * The system teaches students to use specific products (generally MS Office) this means that when confronted with other packages the students are lost

    On the last note, in our case all students knew Clarisworks and the Windows machines were largely neglected until Clarisworks was junked by the school in favour of MSOffice - many found MSOffice confusing, but in the modern world, students learn MS Office and then have trouble with newer versions (e.g office 2007's ribbon interface) or competing packages like OpenOffice.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Linux

      "useless maths about matrices"?!

      Simultaneous equations! Tranformations!

      Matrices are useful and applied in computing in lots of places just not in a GUI interface.

  28. Chris Harries
    Stop

    Too easy

    In maths you need to learn things like trigonometry, statistics models like rank correlation, quadratic equations etc etc all of which are slightly harder then 1 + 1, however IT in schools really is just 1+ 1. A-Level IT is shit as well, I did computer science and AVCE IT at A-Level and it was SHIT. It didn't really teach me anything I didn't know already or could work out by reading a website in 2 minutes. I see some schools have introduced courses such as CCNA which is also a terrible idea. From my perspective it either seams to low level (teaching pascal, why bother, there are other languages that people could have more revelance too like PHP, C~ etc (I'm sure someone will disagree with me) or they are too high level and just focus on using MS Access or if statements in Excel like that is challenging our brains. Too easy and too bull shit, that's what it was 5 years ago, I doubt much has changed

  29. Alan Ableson

    Remember: acronyms are not universal!

    Just a quick journalistic note. Many of your readers come from outside the UK, and in our education debates we don't use the acronym "ICT". I don't mind the use of the acronym in the headline for brevity, but the term should be written out in full the first time it is used in the article itself. Readers shouldn't have to resort to a Google search outside the article to determine whether the "C" is for "computing" or for "communication"...

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Speaking as a "lecturer"...

    Speaking as a professionally young "college lecturer" who happens to deliver what is essentially key skills ICT, I can pretty much state with a lot of firm conviction that a lot of students still simply are not au fait with technology as a whole. A lot of my students don't even know how to use their phones properly and we're talking basic Symbian here (Don't get me started on the ones with Crackberries...) let alone how to use a computer properly. Sure, there are a lot of smart kids not far from my age whom I lecture who know stuff... But there are a horrendous amount who do not know the first thing about ICT despite years of education prior.

    It's easy for us to sit here in our towers and proclaim that the schools should be implementing it into their lessons and the GCSE's should be rehashed (It'd put me out of a job if they could all qualify under 16, but I wouldn't complain if it meant a tech-savvy generation), but bear in mind that there are a significant number of students who simply find it hard to understand the mechanics of Excel and that is all they'll require for their careers. Sure, make the GCSE harder, but make sure that the students who need it are getting their Microsoft Office courses and perhaps we should be dishing out ECDL's, Functional Skills or Key Skills for the students who will only grasp Office with exceptional amounts of guidance.

    I'd be curious to discover peoples experiences of education, because in the Functional Skills syllabus for example they cover basics like anti-virus and security, copyright\fair use, search skills, basic fundamentals of the actual computer itself... But when you bear in mind you have perhaps an hour a week with students over 36 weeks (If you're lucky and they all attend) and a lot of them will require an extensive amount of time to cover Excel alone (You have no idea how complex most students who know nothing of ICT by this point find Excel, it's exactly the same as teaching an older individual who's not had to touch a computer for 30 years of their working life)... Well you get the idea and it's understandable that perhaps some teaching staff (whatever the qual) skip the syllabus and focus on what is going to be tested in the final paper.

    Not that kids want to do ICT anyway. A lot of the ones I teach weren't actually aware of how much ICT affects them or what ICT entails, so I like to steal the more simple to understand stories from El Reg and BBC and talk about them in sessions just to make them aware of what exactly ICT encompasses. At the start of year, 1/20 of my students perhaps knew what the point of anti-virus was, let alone malware. Now almost all of them know at least of keyloggers, the risks involved when breaking copyright, how to look after a computer and safely use them and most importantly that technology is in general for more than a nice word processor and perhaps drawing indecent images in MS Paint... Better that than let them just go away thinking that MS Office is the extent of knowledge they'll ever need and it's a shame that all their final exam will ask them to do is find some information on a website and know how to use Autosum...

  31. E 2

    Guess what else does not belong in universities?

    Business schools do not belong in universities.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    IT teaching in NZ schools crap too

    My son recently earned credits to pass computing at NCEA Level 2. The work arrived on a 3.5" floppy disk. . We didn't even have a machine in the house that still had a working floppy drive. To pass involved not much more than a little copy and paste and nesting some folders. What a joke.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Linux

    MS office for 12 year olds

    As someone who has recently stumbled into ICT teaching after 20 years in mainstream IT I'm shocked to see how easy, deficient and largerly irrelevant it is. It's no wonder that several leading university's now black list ICT A levels as being not academically rigourous enough.

    When I did Computing O'level way back when in 1979 topics included practical programming assesments (BASIC), logic circuits, processor components (ALU's registers etc). Now ICT spends several lessons teaching kids how to make the background a nice shady blue in powerpoint.

    And they say the exams haven't been dumbed down .........

    And the penguin because real operating systems still have a command prompt

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A level fail

    My lad did ICT GCSE - but never got the results despite numerous requests to and assurances from the school.

    Went on to A level was ranked as "best student" and told he was doing well and should expect "better than C" half way through year one. End of year exam "AS" level he was still the best, the only one not to get "U" (effectively fail), he got "E" (officially a pass but might as well be a fail).

    As a result the school decided not to run year 2 of the course so blowing his prospect of completing the course he signed up for and perhaps getting an improved grade. This is in the best state school in the area and he's not thick.

    GCSE course work was garbage. For example, he made a website and used CSS for navigation buttons, that got rejected by the teachers who told him to use Flash instead!

    They were supposed to use Dreamweaver but that's a product designed for professionals who would expect a few days full time commercial training. The kids got "here's the program, get on with it". It's like saying: nuclear physics is on the curriculum for A level physics so let's fire up the school's particle accelerator.

    Apart from that there was a strong bias towards Microsoft Office Suite - but the teachers only had superficial knowledge, my lad ended up showing teachers how to use Excel.

    "A" level material was extremely dull, I'm sure some smart educationalists would defend it as "highly relevant to a real workplace environment". They are wrong but even if it were true, if it's so dull the students don't get engaged and enthusiastic you'll never get the best out of them.

    Like just about everyone else in public sector, the teachers have been feather-bedded, allowed to get lazy on high salaries/benefits packages. Very few would last long in a real job. And I'd not last a day in a teaching job now they've let standards of discipline fall so low that the teachers primary role has become keeping order - so they don't need to know much about the subjects they're supposed to be teaching.

  35. JB

    Times change

    It was called Computer Studies when I did it back in the 80s. We had a two-speed class then, the brighter kids wrote programs, the other kids played hangman or Elite.

    I think teaching school kids programming is useless, that's something they should be encouraged to discover rather than having shoved down their necks. ICT should be about how to use computer to solve everyday problems, and should be incorporated into every lesson.

  36. RW
    Boffin

    Training vs education

    In every discussion of education that I've read, there's no distinction made between training and education sensu strictu. You can train a monkey, but you can't educate him.

    Learning to touch type is a form of training. Learning that in Algol, statements end with semicolon is training. But learning that sometimes a bubble sort is appropriate, but other times a QuickSort, is education.

    Learning to wear underpants is training. Becoming familiar with the Classics is education because of the general lessons to be drawn from them.

    Learning to "do typography" in Wurd is training, but internalizing Bringhurst's "The Elements of Typographic Style" is education.

    Learning to spell is training (for the most part). Learning to write coherent prose is education.

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