back to article Kids' tech skills go backwards thanks to tablets and smartmobes

The growing prevalence of smartphones and tablets in homes and schools may be retarding kids' development of IT skills, according to an Australian study. The research in question was conducted by Australia's National Assessment Program (NAP_, a body that undertakes research of students' skills. Every three years, NAP assesses …

  1. Peshman

    Every cloud...

    And all that. At least I'll not have to suffer age discrimination as I get older. If the young'uns ain't got the skills then I'll always be employable. Doesn't bode well for my kids though. They'll never move out.

    /s

    1. DropBear Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Every cloud...

      ...has its thorn, and every cowboy sings a sad, sad song? Hmmm, wait, something's not quite right...

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Every cloud...

      They'll never move out? You're not behaving properly. Grey stained baggy underpants in front of the telly (watching recordings of 1970's Top of the Pops when there freinds are coming round. Sorted!

      My kids moved out when they were 5!

      1. perlcat

        @Tom 7

        You ain't just whistling Dixie. My mind's eye moved out after reading that.

    3. HildyJ
      IT Angle

      Re: Every cloud...

      You want to be eternally employable, learn COBOL.

      1. Colin Tree

        Re: Every cloud...

        or Forth, yeah it's still going in embedded

  2. msknight Silver badge

    Stands to reason

    Excessive car driving doesn't necessarily lead to greater understanding on how the engine works.

    And when it comes to phones and tablets, there's even less incentive to want to get under the bonnet.

    1. LaeMing Silver badge

      Re: Stands to reason

      And having a car with the hood bolted down that (to be fair) rarely breaks down, makes it worse.

      1. msknight Silver badge

        Re: Stands to reason

        You predicted my pre-coffee edit!

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Stands to reason

      When my kids wanted their driver's license, there was no problem. They took a course. When they wanted a car.... things got interesting for them. We discussed it, we went out and bought a beater. A piece of crap that barely ran. To own the car, they had to fix it up and get it inspected. My rule was that I wouldn't work on it unless they were there and in the middle of it. They learned mechanics, some electrical, and other skills. I learned patience.

      When the car was all done, it was theirs and you never saw two kids take better care of their cars than those two.

      We did the same thing with a computer.. they spec'd it, we bought the parts and I helped them (more like watched) put it together and get it to run.

      1. Simon Sharwood, Reg APAC Editor (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: Re: Stands to reason

        I'd always hoped to get my kids to build their own PCs. By the time they needed them, it had to be a laptop. Bring on Project Ara so they can at least contemplate DIY phones

  3. pstiles

    we approach the post-literacy world

    As technology marches ever on we have less and less need for the trappings of literacy and, well, other real-world skills. I offer Dan Simmons Illium/Olympos books for an example.

    Although I apologise for actually typing these words I should have just left a small video.

    1. Someonehasusedthathandle

      Re: we approach the post-literacy world

      And yet people in businesses still find the need to print out every bastarding thing!!!!!

      Like google calendars that are shared with everyone....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: we approach the post-literacy world

        As the years roll on it would appear that the film Idiocracy (2006) is becoming prophetic.

        1. ecofeco Silver badge

          Re: we approach the post-literacy world

          "As the years roll on it would appear that the film Idiocracy (2006) is becoming prophetic."

          Becoming? You need to get out more.

          On second thought, maybe not. It's pretty bad.

    2. Daniel von Asmuth Bronze badge
      Windows

      Re: we approach the post-literacy world

      I wonder about the digital literacy of my great-grandmother. Would she use coal to fuel her search engine? Surf spider webs? Does social media mean gossiping while waiting for her turn at the village well?

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: we approach the post-literacy world

        We "approach"??

        “One of the reasons I’ve said I wouldn’t be talking to Vladimir Putin right now is because we are speaking to him from a position of weakness brought on by this administration, so, I wouldn’t talk to him for a while, but, I would do this. I would start rebuilding the Sixth Fleet right under his nose, rebuilding the military — the missile defense program in Poland right under his nose. I would conduct very aggressive military exercises in the Baltic States so that he understood we would protect our NATO allies…and I might also put in a few more thousand troops into Germany, not to start a war, but to make sure that Putin understand that the United States of America will stand with our allies… We must have a no fly zone in Syria because Russia cannot tell the United States of America where and when to fly our planes. We also have a set of allies in the Arab Middle East that know that ISIS is their fight…but they must see leadership support and resolve from the United States of America…we have the strongest military on the face of the planet, and everyone has to know it.”

        Dumb kids on pulpits. Our only hope is that ISIS does a suicide strike on the whole bunch.

  4. Dan 55 Silver badge

    The kids are probably translating mobile/tablet skills to desktop...

    ... and it doesn't work.

    What to do, reinforce desktop skills or dumb down the curriculum to touch device levels?

    I bet I know what will happen though.

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: The kids are probably translating mobile/tablet skills to desktop...

      Politicians will get involved and produce a curriculum that emphasises the least useful aspects of desktops and mobiles.

    2. Seajay#
      Joke

      Re: The kids are probably translating mobile/tablet skills to desktop...

      I've got a plan! What if we brought out a new version of a desktop OS that was designed to look and act like a tablet? What could go wrong with that?

    3. LaeMing Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: The kids are probably translating mobile/tablet skills to desktop...

      That would explain the huge cluster of fingerprints I am always having to clean off the (definitely not touch) student-labs desktop screens each week!

  5. tojb

    Those tasks are *bullshit*

    Use social media to promote a rock band??? That's digital literacy???????

    How about setting up a PA system, configuring filters for reverb etc? That would at least be interesting.

    Scrape the internet for mentions of the band and plot a histogram of hits by last-modified-date?

    This test is an insult to the kids and to humanity. I would fail it in protest if I ever saw such a stupid thing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Those tasks are *bullshit*

      I would fail it in protest

      Sure... in protest.

    2. DropBear Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Those tasks are *bullshit*

      Apparently we can look forward to the expeditious demise of professions like "PR specialist", "web designer" or "animation artist" since these are now apparently common digital literacy skills...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Those tasks are *bullshit*

        "Apparently we can look forward to the expeditious demise of professions like "PR specialist", "web designer" or "animation artist" since these are now apparently common digital literacy skills..."

        Web designer, a skill?

        1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

          Re: Those tasks are *bullshit*

          Web designer, a skill?

          Well given the differences between well designed web sites and the majority - yes, I would say there is skill there

          1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

            Re: Those tasks are *bullshit*

            I would say there is skill there

            Indeed. Most people couldn't design a website if their life depended on it, ending up with something like Geocities of the President Clinton Era. Definitely a skill.

  6. Yugguy

    Smartphones don't need brain power

    Smartphones don''t need higher brain functions to operate. Switch it on, sign your life away to Google and Facebook and you never need think again.

    1. Hollerith 1

      Re: Smartphones don't need brain power

      My nephews live on their smartphones. They ski, film with a GoPro or film others, edit the clips into little films on their phones, and share them with friends, plus they post them to various social media sites. They are able to send nifty formatted invitations with embedded maps, etc. from their phones. They do not consider these to be IT tasks, but the way they live their lives.

      I don't think any of the tests would have them blinking an eye.

  7. petur
    Boffin

    Downside of making the interactions too easy

    These days, being able to work with a computer/tablet/phone requires zero technical knowledge. Users are only getting as dumb as the interface they are facing.

    Back in the 'old' days, operating a computer required skills and as a consequence you learned a lot just by getting the hang of it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Petur

      Users are only getting as dumb as the interface they are facing.

      Well, I think there's more to it than that. For example the teachers also have a big influence in all this.

      When teaching this stuff it is important to stimulate curiosity, to motivate kids to dive deeper into the matter they're working with. I think that crucial part is severely lacking with "modern" education. Let's do a Google search; why not try to make the kids wonder how Google actually manages all that? How does all that Internet data end up "in" Google?

      Still, I think matters are far worse than this. I mean: a Google search isn't merely an IT related task, it's also about being able to break a subject down into smaller parts. I'd even argue that it is (or should be) a bit of common sense at work: finding the relevant keywords.

      How hard can that be I wonder...

    2. Charles Manning

      Rinse and repeat...

      This is exactly the same thing that happens with all technologies. As they improve and get easier to use, people lose touch with how the stuff works.

      In the old days of lighting, you used lamps. Lamp lighting was a skill that involved understanding how to trim wicks and set them properly so that they burned evenly without charring the wick. Now, just flick a switch and you have leccy light. With LED lighting you don't even need to know how to change a lightbulb.

      Until the 1970s you needed a rudimentary understanding of how a car worked to be able to use one. Sparkplugs fouled after a few thousand miles (in the beginning even less than 100 miles). You had to dick around with chokes, check the oil and water at every refuel, check for sparks and flat batteries were common. Now... you just drive for ten thousand miles and most people don't even know their cars have spark plugs or how an ignition system works.

      Owning a valve (tube for USAians) radio was a deligh, but valves blew all the time. Owning a valve radio required knowing how to open it up and replace the valves. Transistor radios: just turn them on and magic happens.

      So is anyone really surprised that the sprogs don't know how electronics and computers actually work?

      Engineering used to be just everyday practical common sense, now it's a black art.

    3. enormous c word

      Re: Downside of making the interactions too easy

      My friends son (aged ~15) is considered (by his parents) as being great with IT - his experience is XBOX/XBOX360/XBOX ONE and PS3/4. His teaching of IT in school is mostly about how to surf web sites. Absolutely pointless!

  8. thomas k

    If those were the tasks

    I'd have a digital literacy in the negative range.

  9. jake Silver badge

    One word:

    Duh.

    Hint: iFads, Fandroids, and the like, teach how to use an interface, not how computers work. The distinction is kinda important.

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Not when the topic is literacy

      Just I don't need to know what a gerund or a phoneme is to be literate I don't need to know what a cpu or a function is to be digitally literate. It's just a matter of the users knowing how to use the (high-level) tools. Sometime we techies just have to accept that it's not about us.

      1. Naughtyhorse

        Re: Not when the topic is literacy

        Just I don't need to know what a gerund or a phoneme is to be literate...

        you kinda do have to know all that stuff really.

  10. Diogenes

    As an ICT teacher I am not surprised

    We are always chasing the latest shiney shiney to make the learning relevant assuming that just because little Johhny/Mary has been using a 'puter since primary he/she knows the basics.

    Just today I had to show students who have started their HSC year , how to add a footer, how to use heading styles and edit styles and create a table of contents for a document that make up 60% of their final mark. On Monday I will be showing the built in referencing tool, and how to turn stats on so they quickly do word counts as there are strict word limits on individual parts of the document. For some Ctrl+Enter, Ctrl+End , and Ctrl+Home, were a revelation as were Ctrl A,C,X,V,S & P !) .

    In NSW some of the skills tested are explicitly taught in options in an elective (Info Software Tech) , not the core curriculum. And given the skills being tested not a single one will be addressed in the National Curriculum. Furthermore we are not likely to see a change in NSW for many many years.

    For Simon & any parents of NSW students who are interested - google ICTENSW - find the post "Australian Curriculum: Technologies & Computational Thinking – Implications for NSW" & watch the podcast at the bottom of the page for BOSTES's official line in NSW.

    Setting up a crowdfunding website - FMD - THATS a skill I use every day /sarcasm

    Upload a video - noice - except in NSW all the video upload sites are blocked for students (except year 12) so how the hell do you teach THAT ?-

    Getting data - check. Taught my kids how to use a weather data API - "Whats that skippy?", we can't get through the proxy server - well that was a waste of a double period.

    DOLTS !

    minor edits - I tend to write Kleistian sentences

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As an ICT teacher I am not surprised

      You've just articulated why I'll never work as a school teacher no matter how well people think I can explain things.

      1. Diogenes

        Re: As an ICT teacher I am not surprised

        If it wasn't for my senior Software Design & Dev classes (syllabus only slightly modified since 1999) I would go insane. At our place, English are supposed to teach Word, Maths Excel , and HSIE - Powerpoint. I often do lesson swaps with my collegues in the TAS(Home Econ & Industrial Arts) faculty - I will take a year 7/8 class and show them how do things they do not know how to do, and they will take my class in return (the few occasions my guys get a worksheet)

        Edit - forgot to add "digital natives - my a**se", they know how to do SOME things well, the rest, just as clueless as my 90yo step father is

        1. DropBear Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: As an ICT teacher I am not surprised

          "digital natives - my a**se"

          If you want to get fancy AND truthful, maybe you could call them "micropayment experts" (generally involving someone else's credit card)...

          1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

            Re: As an ICT teacher I am not surprised

            If you want to get fancy AND truthful, maybe you could call them "micropayment experts" (generally involving someone else's credit card)...

            The teams working on micropayments (except for a few specialised high volume chaps and chapesses) are the ones at the bottom of the pile.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As an ICT teacher I am not surprised

      There was an IT job slowdown in my area at the time and I was working in a factory packing bread rolls. (this was in the 90's)

      On one shift I was pared with this bloke who had an MSC in computer studies. We got talking. He asked... "How does a mouse work?"

      I replied... "You what?"

      He said, "When you move it on the table, how does it know to move the pointer?"

      My reply (when I eventually recovered from being totally stunned) is sadly unprintable, even on an El Reg forum.

      1. Seajay#

        Re: How does a mouse work?

        Do you know that?

        I'm dimly aware that there must be some sort of protocol that runs over ps2 and that there is a Human Interface Device type in USB but I don't know the details of either. I believe that the buttons are microswitches and old ball mice had a ball which turned one up/down and one left/right roller but I'm not entirely sure what that roller connected to. A magnet moving in a coil? A grey coded wheel?

        I definitely don't know how an optical mouse works, I would guess at a low res camera and some image processing but now I think about it that seems like a lot of processing power for something which has been cheap for quite a while. Even if that is how it works, I definitely don't know the details of how that image processing is implemented.

        If your standard of what it means to know how something works is high enough, it is perfectly reasonable to not know how a mouse works.

      2. Erik4872

        Re: As an ICT teacher I am not surprised

        "He asked... "How does a mouse work?""

        Maybe there's a reason he was working in a commercial bakery instead of at Google. :-)

        In all seriousness, I have noticed that most software development people have no idea how the computer itself actually works, or how to do any systems management. They write to their language's standard library, and everything gets taken care of. No need to think about how a network request is routed, what the database is doing when it's fed your God-awful SQL query, etc.

        1. ecofeco Silver badge

          Re: As an ICT teacher I am not surprised

          "In all seriousness, I have noticed that most software development people have no idea how the computer itself actually works, or how to do any systems management."

          This is my experience as well.

    3. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: As an ICT teacher I am not surprised

      @Diogenes

      Just today I had to show students who have started their HSC year , how to add a footer, how to use heading styles and edit styles and create a table of contents for a document that make up 60% of their final mark

      I'm not even sure where to begin fact checking that statement, so I'm going to assume its the full & accurate picture.

      Wow. Just wow. How can anyone credibly claim that education has not been dumbed down when A) 60% of the final mark is coursework rather than an exam, and B) when basic document formatting accounts for most of the grade.

      Being the old giffer that I now am, I've paid sufficient attention to your post to realize I'm talking about the UK while you're talking about Oz, but I'm hoping there's some UK based teacher that can compare & contract current GCSE grading criteria with what you've said.

      We just had our "year of code" so surely, surely, kids at UK schools have at least been taught something simple like Python?

      1. Diogenes

        Re: As an ICT teacher I am not surprised

        @lucrelout ...

        The course is called Society & Culture. The report is a 4k word thesis which is marked by the same people that mark the exam. Given the content there are not many examinable "facts" that can be regurgitated , but they demonstrate an in depth understanding, and application of the concepts

        There are specific formatting requirements, which, if not complied with will result in a mark not much better than a basic pass,and these requirements are designed to stop thepfaffing around looking for the nicest font, making text unreadable, and allow the marker to concentrate on the content, not the presentation.

        Iknow there are arguments that we shouldn't be teaching just office, but i since the beginning of this term i have no control over the software installed on my machines - we have to use a corporate build which is incredibly frustrating as the catalog doesn't contain what i have been using to teach programming - guess who will spend much of the long break rewriting resources.

        The point I was trying tomake is that these kids have used office(whether that is good thing I leave to you) for nearly 12 years of schooling, and they had no idea thatctrl+ enter gives them a new page, or the use of styles.

      2. Triggerfish

        Re: As an ICT teacher I am not surprised

        To be fair I do not think making coursework a component of final marks is dumbing down.

    4. petur

      Re: As an ICT teacher I am not surprised

      To be honest, I think learning to use Office should only be a very minor part of ICT courses, it's just a stupid program, and a relative easy/polished one too. Probably sponsored by MS so that the kiddies only know about Office and none of the alternatives.

      I'm happy that we've managed to get the school of our kids on LibreOffice, next step is upgrading the XP and vista machines to linux.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As an ICT teacher I am not surprised

      Were you teaching them Word or how to create a document?

    6. Munchausen's proxy

      Re: As an ICT teacher I am not surprised

      "how to add a footer, how to use heading styles and edit styles and create a table of contents for a document that make up 60% of their final mark."

      If Isaac Newton had had a computer, we'd still be waiting for him to decide on a font and how to flow his paragraphs for the Principia.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        " we'd still be waiting for him to decide on a font"

        No.

        Comic Sans.

  11. Mondo the Magnificent
    Childcatcher

    The "shrink wrap" era?

    Years ago kids were sat in front of PCs they often built themselves by shopping around for the relevant components then banging it all together.

    These machines had to be set up from scratch, load the OS, the drivers, make the tweaks and changes to suit one's requirements..

    Internet access was via dial-up modem and social media was the likes of Internet relay Chat or IRC

    Then came ADSL, but ADSL modems weren't offering WiFi connectivity as a standard option in those days.. so a WAP was added and manually configured.

    In fact, to connect to ADSL we had to buy NICs and install them into our PCs, because very few offered integrated LAN, then came the CD's, CD-RWs, DVD upgrades...

    I recall setting up LAN parties, where we'd all meet up at a friend's house, connect up and play Doom, Quake III Arena and Starcraft to name a few.. this was our era of "social networking"

    Today we live in a world where kids prefer the likes of tablets over PCs, social media is Facebook, Adium, WhatsApps BBM, and all the other easy to set up software.

    Kids now enjoy shrink wrapped solutions, open the box, power on, charge, register the device, do some basic config and it's ready to roll...

    DSL in commonplace in almost every homestead nowadays, wireless networks are everywhere as is 3/4G connectivity, Facebook, Google, MySpace is the social networking of today, and it's also spawned an era for "TXT TLK" which annoys many...

    This, in my opinion could be the root cause... things are just too easy....

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: The "shrink wrap" era?

      "Years ago kids were sat in front of PCs they often built themselves by shopping around for the relevant components then banging it all together.

      These machines had to be set up from scratch, load the OS, the drivers, make the tweaks and changes to suit one's requirements.."

      That's not quite how I remember it. I remember putting the bits together, I remember loading the OS, the drivers. And then I remember there occasionally being this random BSOD caused by some minor conflict that only showed up once every month, that I could never fix. I guess the conflict was between Windows 95 and the world.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: The "shrink wrap" era?

      Do we need to cut and dry wood to make fires so that we can cook our food in clay pots that we made and fired in the kiln? So sad, all we have to do is flick a switch to get instant heat, or even use 12cm wavelength RF to get the job done quicker.

      In fact the curious minds will always be able to make and code, they will buy bits from Tindie and lash together interesting stuff. The idea behind such things as Raspbery Pi is to find these people. My son is doing computing at school rather than the old ICT, so instead of Excel and Powerpoint they are coding Python for GCSE.

      The ones that are not interested will still not be interested even if they were required to put together a PC from component modules and load up an OS.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The "shrink wrap" era?

        Do we need to cut and dry wood to make fires so that we can cook our food in clay pots that we made and fired in the kiln? So sad, all we have to do is flick a switch to get instant heat, or even use 12cm wavelength RF to get the job done quicker.

        No, but when there's a power cut, at least you'll know what to do in order to cook a decent meal instead of sitting in front of the now inert and useless box chanting "It no workie!"

        1. Mage Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: The "shrink wrap" era?

          "No, but when there's a power cut"

          Or when the Cloud Ecosystem gets false positive on AV scan and goes off line due to automatic disable of execute flag on index.php or whatever and civilisation falls over because all banking, mobile billing, management systems etc have been outsourced to Cloud by the accountants who were these kids.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The "shrink wrap" era?

          "No, but when there's a power cut"

          Oh right, so like when the Internet is off they should be able to code their own search engine?

          1. LucreLout Silver badge

            Re: The "shrink wrap" era?

            @AC

            "No, but when there's a power cut"

            Oh right, so like when the Internet is off they should be able to code their own search engine?

            It's called a torch.

            1. Mark 85 Silver badge

              Re: The "shrink wrap" era?

              Torch? When I was a kid we had to code by candlelight.

              1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

                Re: "Torch? When I was a kid we had to code by candlelight."

                Luxury

                We had to sit in th' dark, gnawing th' holes in th' punchcards!

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The "shrink wrap" era?

            Oh right, so like when the Internet is off they should be able to code their own search engine?

            No, they should know how to read a book to find what they need. You know, those analogue things made of paper?

            Not sure how a search engine, whether local or not, is going to help though unless the material is already on your local machine, in which case the likes of Bing, Google and Yahoo are going to be pretty useless anyway as they won't have indexed your hard drive.

      2. LucreLout Silver badge

        Re: The "shrink wrap" era?

        @werdsmith

        Do we need to cut and dry wood to make fires so that we can cook our food in clay pots that we made and fired in the kiln? So sad, all we have to do is flick a switch to get instant heat, or even use 12cm wavelength RF to get the job done quicker.

        I see where you're going with this, but while I may not ordinarily start a fire from some kindling, a bendy stick, and some shoelace, I do in fact know enough about fire to do so. I may not make the plates on which I serve dinner, but oddly enough, I could make some plates and fire them in an oil barrel turned into an oven.... I expect I'm wholly typical of Gen X in this knowledge.

        My son is doing computing at school rather than the old ICT, so instead of Excel and Powerpoint they are coding Python for GCSE.

        Sanity is restored! I wish I'd read this far before posting my reply to Diogenes earlier in the thread as you've actually answered most of my question. I don't suppose you know what the grading criteria are for his GCSE please? Exam, or coursework?

    3. Yugguy

      Re: The "shrink wrap" era?

      Good post, very true.

      Bizarrely though - once you finally got your computer working it was relatively easy in a sense to do interesting stuff on it - e.g. once you got your ZX81 or C64 running you could start coding immediately, even if it was just silly, basic stuff.

      You can't easily start to code on a smartphone/tablet, not in the same way and they're not seen as computers to the average person, even thought that's what they really are.

    4. ChunkyMonkey
      Linux

      Re: The "shrink wrap" era?

      The best decision I ever made with regard to teaching my son about computers was to ditch windows and all paid for software. Not because I particularly hated MS, back then I actually really liked Visual Studio. But it's all too easy, clickerty, clickerty and it's all done.

      The same can be said for linux, but once you start installing all the little extras and trying out the free software you end up having to dig under the hood a lot more than windows.

      Another reason why the RaspberryPie is great for kids. Every child should be issued with one and all home work and project work can be done on that.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: The "shrink wrap" era?

        Actually nobody mentions it, so I will now.

        When there's a power cut.......

        We cook using fire, it's called a barbecue.

        1. Martijn Otto

          Re: The "shrink wrap" era?

          The gas pipe should still work. It seems to be even more reliable than the electric grid. I don't know about the UK, but in the Netherlands almost everybody cooks on gas. The few times I've had to cook on an electric furnace have been a hell. Why do people do it?

          Besides the gas, we have a wood heater that can be used to cook on. Also great when the power fails, because that means the end of the heat pump as well. This way, we're never in the cold. Keeping a few candles ready for power outages and you're set for a while.

          If you're prepared kids tend to like these situations because it gives them the chance to really learn something new - and something which is simple enough to completely understand.

  12. Teiwaz Silver badge

    The Scenarios...?

    Basic ICT competencies?

    Party Organiser

    Band Manager

    (Setting up a tablet is about the only one I recognise as basic ICT)

    Youtube celebrity blogger

    (I've not seen an awful lot job-ads for any of these others.

    These days, best to teach how to guard against personal information theft (or just not to give it away), and some skills so when the majority end up in non-Entertainment Industry jobs they have a chance of being capable.

    1. Lamont Cranston

      ^ This.

      I'm quite glad that my kids' time in the ICT suite so far (all still at Primary School) has been mostly spent using Scratch to gain an understanding of programming. The only time that social media has come up has been when they looked at staying safe online.

  13. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    There is hope yet

    Enter the Arduino

    My eldest (who loves his tablets and smartphones) is now in second year of secondary school, and in his research and design class was introduced to an Arduino, and had to do some basic programming on it, wiring up and controlling traffic lights and the like. He was totally captivated by it! That is the way to teach understanding and stimulate fascination at a young age. I want to go to that school and hug the teacher.

    At home I showed him a little Arduino set-up programmed to play "pong" by some first-year students of mine, as part of the course Introduction to Computing Science. Both he and his younger brother found this totally cool. So for Xmas my eldest wants an Arduino set. Guess what he is going to get (and I might get one for myself as well)

  14. Mage Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Complements an earlier study

    Too much Phones / Tablets / Computers holds back academic achievement generally. They are poorly integrated to teaching materials, distracting and without proper training and disciple even the "library / research" aspect is underused. Most people go to their favourite sites and have no idea how to search.

    Tablets and esp. Phones make it harder to copy and paste any found info into documents.

    You have work at it to have more than a text editor on Tablets / Phones.

    Smartphones are largely communication and entertainment devices. Tablets are largely media browsing and entertainment.

    Yes, I know you can install apps to create content, add keyboard etc, but dammed painful compared to netbook / laptop / notebook with OS X/ Windows /Linux. Even then in most schools a laptop/netbook is going to be a distraction, not an aid because kids have not been taught how to use one properly as a tool to aid study.

    You still need good teachers, working out examples, attention to teaching, not being in an LCD illuminated enhanced personal internet bubble.

    Amazon's trail of using Kindles (DX and DXG) for university was a complete fail not because eInk eBooks is a bad thing, but because even the Keyboard Kindle is garbage for annotation and overall ALL eBook devices have appalling GUI/software only good for reading short stories and novels. I've used 5 Kindles and Kobo Aura H20. The Kobo has a better home screen and access to list of books in use, but otherwise the SW is like a bad copy of Kindle.

    I was doing better document management software 20 years ago!

  15. Gordon Pryra

    Been saying this for years. I learnt about IT through trying to get Elite working on a 386. In order to do this i was able to get to the bare bones of the physical and then play with the OS (Dos 5 something). And in doing so, was able to teach myself

    My 8 year old has now "built" her first computer from my spares box. She at least knows what makes the machine go, from which she can work out how the rest works. Good luck doing that with a tablet.

    Kids today are the digital equivilent of the children of the citys from the 70's who had no idea what a sheep looked like.

  16. Jimboom

    I have a very simple rule from day 1

    My son can have a computer when he can build his own one. He can have his own gaming console when he can beat both me and mum at oldschool bomberman, or Mariokart ( which a track of my choice).

    I have had to more than once stop the in law from buying him a Crapple device even though I hear the same protests every time "Oh, but it helped his cousin with their studies".

    But even more than that, tablet/phablet skills are not what is used in proper business! Unless he is going to go straight in at management level of course. But I would call that a personal defeat if he did and didn't know at least how to handle a BOFH.

  17. Efros

    Not surprising

    I teach in a traditional HS and in an online classroom, the so called digital generation have few useful IT skills. They are very skilled at utilising mobile devices for their amusement, peer vilification, and general mischief, this is a result of repeated hourly use. However, asking them to complete the simplest of tasks involving the fixing of a non cooperative application/website is the equivalent of asking a diarist to make a pencil from its constituent parts and then to make the diary as well. Their perceived skillset doesn't mesh with what their actual one is, and to be honest without suitable teaching/training why should it. If you don't give them the opportunity to develop a skillset then it's not going to happen out of the blue as their casual use of technology doesn't demand it.

    1. Diogenes

      Re: Not surprising

      Just the point I wastryingto make with my post

  18. Tom Servo

    SET BLASTER=A220 I7 D1 T3

    Kids today don't know how good they have it if they've never had to edit an Autoexec.bat with the above just to get some bleeps out of the sodding pc.

    And don't mess it up by choosing soundblaster pro instead of soundblaster 16 etc....etc.....

    I'm getting old.

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: SET BLASTER=A220 I7 D1 T3

      That's just because all the cool kids have a Gravis Ultrasound... ;)

      Seriously though, if I never have to mess around with QMM again it will be too soon.

      1. moiety

        Re: SET BLASTER=A220 I7 D1 T3

        Came here to say something like this...Thanks to the "nobody will ever need more than 640K of memory" thing; getting almost any game to work involved an afternoon of slapping the memory manager around.

    2. Swarthy Silver badge

      Re: SET BLASTER=A220 I7 D1 T3

      Oh, wow.. That caused some flashbacks.Although, I think I usually used IRQ 5, as a lot of the other random peripherals I had assumed nothing else was using 7, so they did.

      "Fond" memories of installing a new modem and finding out my CD ROM no longer worked (IRQ conflict 'twixt modem and Sound Card, and the sound card was the CD-ROM controller).

      1. Rick Brasche

        Re: SET BLASTER=A220 I7 D1 T3

        what killed me was that my first Soundblaster needed TWO IRQs. One for the sound card I wanted to set up, and the other for the onboard MIDI controller. So I was initally always creating a conflict by setting the card up in a known empty IRQ but the next one was where Video lived and the soundblaster wanted to stick the MIDI into the next IRQ, so system tanks on startup.

        singing as the Bunkers'. "those were the daaayyyys!"

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: SET BLASTER=A220 I7 D1 T3

        "Oh, wow.. That caused some flashbacks.Although, I think I usually used IRQ 5, as a lot of the other random peripherals I had assumed nothing else was using 7, so they did."

        IRQ7 = LTP1

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: SET BLASTER=A220 I7 D1 T3

          LPT1 actually, not LTP… but no matter.

          Actually, the only reason I can think of for using IRQ7 might be for emulation of the "Disney Sound Source" which was a feature of the Sound Galaxy SG NX Pro.

          The "Disney Sound Source" was basically a parallel-port attached DAC.

        2. Swarthy Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: SET BLASTER=A220 I7 D1 T3

          Ah. I stand corrected. I knew I remembered IRQ7 for a reason. I thought it was the reason stated, but I guess a decade or two can cloud the memory.

  19. ElectricFox
    WTF?

    Why wasn't posting retarded comments on The Register included in this test?

    (Posted from my iPad)

    1. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: Why wasn't posting retarded comments on The Register included in this test?

      Because I'm no longer of school age, obviously!

    2. David Harper 1

      Re: Why wasn't posting retarded comments on The Register included in this test?

      I don't think we're allowed to use "retarded" in that sense any more, unless you're referring to comments that only appear after a lengthy delay. We have to say "comments with special educational needs".

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. JohnNE12

    Digital Native vs Foreigners

    Maybe us oldies are better at IT because we have had to learn it from scratch. For the digital natives it just always been there to use.

    This is the same as the many Europeans I know who speak better english than me (ok then:than I!). They have had to learn the building blocks of grammar, vocabulary and syntax; to decode idioms, slang and shorthand expressions.

    In this case we are past peak IT, it is unnecessary for most people to understand it. They only have to use it. There will always be specialists in both English Grammar and IT. For everyone else, these are just tools put there to use.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Computers were supposed to work for us

    not to think on our behalf.

    I think we're slowly losing what brought us here in the first place, the brilliant human mind.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: Computers were supposed to work for us

      "I think we're slowly losing what brought us here in the first place, the brilliant human mind."

      Nah, at least not as such. There is always the Gaussian bell curve. True brilliance is rare, as is true idiocy. Everything else lies somewhere inbetween. There will always be those who ask why and why not and those who just shrug and say okay then. I think that the brilliant-to-idiot-ratio is more or less a constant, but in absolute numbers more people mean more idiots.

      The other thing is that due to electronic media, modern communications, social networks, etc. the idiots are much more visible. A hundred years ago the village idiot just sat there and twiddled his thumbs, today he is on Facebook (or in extreme cases in a 'reality' show on TV).

  23. muddysteve

    The picture with the article

    I hope that is really a "g", as it looks horribly like that kid has just written out "I will be food" lots of times.

    Maybe that is why he is wearing the Dunce's cap.

  24. Rick Brasche

    Consumption is not Understanding

    advertisers and pop culture have gotten people thinking because they can use Google and a music streaming service that somehow they are more "tech savvy" than others. But all they're doing is *consuming* what is often pushed to them. Tablets and smartphones are about *consumption* for the vast majority of uses and users, not about *creation*. An analogy would be the conceit that people are "farm savvy" because they eat foods grown or raised on one. And as any country boy seeing the city slicker in line at Whole Foods can tell you, that is not the case. Test any of the organic kale smoothie drinkers and you'll find just as many, if not more, unable to actually raise their food as anyone tested in the fast food mecca of the 80's. Sure one group can use a lot of marketing terms and "sound like" they know what's going on but the reality is, even their extra knowledge was simply produced and sent to be consumed. Hell, most people even get their tablets, phones and home wifi set up by someone else anyway.

    1. Chika
      Flame

      Re: Consumption is not Understanding

      Now we get to the crux of the matter.

      We know that tablets and smartphones further remove their users from the muddy world of IT literacy, but how did we end up this way?

      Consider, if you will, why these devices were developed. OK, I've used tablets and smartphones myself but mostly in the way they are meant to be used; consumption. That's why companies such as Google continue to develop Android; they get money back from the copious amounts of advertising they generate from your use of their system. Not really what Linux was developed for, is it?

      So as Rick says, consumption is what these people use these devices for but consider why they are used that way and who is encouraging this. Not just Google either - Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and so on. They want your cash, they don't care how they get it, they will continue to make it easier to get at it and sod the IT literacy of the world.

      (Typed from my home-built Linux based server)

  25. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Photoshop and YouTube are "STEM" skills?

    Seymour Cray on a bike.

  26. Old Used Programmer

    It's a trap!

    Perhaps they've fallen for what Eben Upton calls the "tablet trap". He was thinking of third world countries, but that doesn't make first world countries immune to it.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dumbness by design

    The politicians are so clueless about education they think giving kids iPads is more important than actually teaching children basic skills like reading, writing and math, which might be useful in life. God forbid we should hire competent educators and properly compensate them for their dedication. It's far more important that every child has an expensive electronic toy distraction in addition to their cellphone.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Consumer vs "computing"

    I think the real different here is that tablets/phones etc.. are turning kids and that generation into power consumers. Not power users. Sure they know how to navigate the "consumer" side of computers. But when it comes to the real computing (e.g. go and search the logs to find out why you get a random error pop up every time you do X), they wouldn't necessarily know where to start (they might if they have the aptitude be able to go google it at least though)

    I suppose really what it boils down to is that one path will take you to be able to tell other users how to do what they want to do, while a more IT-centric path will give you the ability to actually fix issues when the users are doing what they are supposed to to get said job done, but the computer doesn't want to know.

    I think this is more a statement on the consumer driven way that IT has gone. If something breaks you take it to the shop and they either fix or replace it. If your out of warranty you throw it away and buy a new one.

    I'll get me coat, it's the one with the soldering iron and a bunch on transistors/capacitors in it.

  29. Christian Berger Silver badge

    They don't use computers the way they are intended

    They use computers only as media consumption devices. Instead of using computers with their full potential, which also means writing the occasional small program, they just consume mindlessly.

  30. Erik4872

    The complexity hasn't really gone away

    One of the problems with any comparison of "kids today" with what you remember is that the complexity has been abstracted away -- but it's still there. Every iPhone is running a *BSD based operating system under the hood, it still has a TCP/IP stack, hardware it communicates with, etc. A "web developer" cranking out PHP or JavaScript is writing to a standard library, but that standard library under the hood is making operating system calls, which make hardware-level calls to actually get the machine to do something useful.

    The difference now is that locked down sanitized devices are the norm, not the exception. My iPhone very rarely crashes, but when something does happen it's not like I'm getting error messages...it just starts "acting strange." That's what I see, but I guarantee the people writing Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Linux, etc. know what's actually going on. That knowledge is harder to acquire now, and resides in the hands of specialists because the vast majority of people don't care how things work as long as Facebook is operating.

    It's kind of like the discussions I have in the line of my end user computing work. People just don't get that VDI, Citrix, etc. don't make desktop applications go away. They're just moved into the data center or the cloud where you still need the experts to maintain them, and failure of them is much more noticeable.

  31. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Dear god I've encountered every one of those scenarios!

    2. Chika

      Read, marked and inwardly digested. Mind you, as an Acorn user since my school days, I saw this coming a mile off.

  32. 404 Silver badge

    Problem here is...

    .. that the schools are using iPads, Chromebooks, etc to replace paper, pencil, and textbooks - not anything IT related. New tools to replace old tools and in so doing, losing cursive writing, basic math, and memory skills.

    We've had to supplement our kid's education with multiplication table memorization, history, and much to my dismay, cursive writing*. We have 6-7 Raspberry Pi's running around the house doing media, minecraft server, and development duties - gigabit wired/wifi network with draconian user rights*** - fully digital with everything they could want - and chickens**. Point is, as parents, you better pay attention to your school system, just because they may have the latest tech shineys - it doesn't mean they're teaching your children anything useful.

    *Learned the school system didn't teach cursive when one of my boys couldn't sign a vehicle title transfer properly. Both of us were embarrassed.

    ** 4H project that got out of hand - have a dozen hens and one rooster. Lots of eggs.

    *** Kids found a way to bypass the family AD user rights and surf late at night years ago.

  33. DougS Silver badge

    IT skills are a moving and biased target

    If they tested kids 25 years ago they'd probably expect them to know some DOS commands, which would be a problem for those using a Mac, an early Windows machine, OS/2 or whatever. If they tested them 20 years ago they'd expect them to be able to sign on to AOL and maybe tell whether the modem is connecting properly by listening to whether the sounds are right. 15 years ago they'd want them to set up a Geocities page with a lot of flashing fonts...

    I don't think it is possible to compare skills over as many years as they are trying, because a lot has changed. Any kids that had a "smartphone" back then had a Blackberry, which was useless for apps or the web. Now many never touch a PC except in school, all their computing is done via apps on their phone, or if they are forced, its browser.

    If they figure based on what they do today, trying to compare that to what they're doing in 2022 will probably fail because things will have moved on again. Maybe they'll be talking to Siri / GoogleNow to get a lot of things done, and a lot of the skills they have today will no longer be necessary.

  34. HildyJ

    Why IT Skills; What IT Skills?

    The particular study focused on a curriculum that was built around a software ecosystem that existed when it was proposed (i.e. several years before it was implemented). Software has moved on but the curriculum has not. The results are unsurprising.

    The question is, why are you teaching IT skills to non-IT students and what skills do non-IT students need? Going back to the original IT breakthrough, writing, for the educated class, reading was important but, for millennia, writing was not. Similarly, breakthrough two, printing, had no skills that the educated class needed - few of the Enlightenment authors knew how to set type.

    Today, while an IT student needs to know how to program, the average student doesn't. How to touch type is a generally useful skill. But, beyond that, things get specific, and can become outdated, real fast. Most students in the first world would benefit from being taught Word, Excel, and maybe PowerPoint but I don't see that as a priority (I'd put personal finance and cooking much higher).

    What might make sense is to define programming as a foreign language. This would first require that universities accept it as fulfilling their language requirement for admission, but, to the extent that foreign languages serve to expand ways of thinking, vocabulary, and grammar, computer languages certainly qualify. And, who knows, it might actually turn some non-IT students towards real IT careers.

    1. Simon Sharwood, Reg APAC Editor (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Why IT Skills; What IT Skills?

      About 15 years ago I tried to find data on Uni students studying programming languages vs. foreign languages. Foreign languages were ahead, but not by a huge amount.

    2. Nuno trancoso

      Re: Why IT Skills; What IT Skills?

      "Today, while an IT student needs to know how to program, the average student doesn't."

      Beg to differ. The way i see it, programming is one of the "endgame" supersets of problem solving. And that skill is useful for world+dog. You have to be able to understand the problem, think about it in a logical way, devise a solution and then test said solution against your problem. If it fails, you have to do some critical analysis of said solution, find the flaws, implement the fixes, test again. Sounds like a general "real world" skill right?

      Doesn't need to be real "heavy coding". You can "imprint" the relevant mindset with very light coursework in a very short time span.

      IMHO, the issue with the "smartphone/tablet generation" isn't the smartphone and/or the tablet. It's the sheer fact we've crippled their basic skill set (reading, writing, math/logic) to atrocious levels. If they can't understand the problem and critically think about it, they will obviously fail at solving it..

      Instead of nurturing the next generation of thinkers, we've engaged them in a mass Pavlovian experiment, and they're worse of than the dogs were because they only get to drool over "virtual gratification" compared to tasty real food.

  35. Colin Tree

    F-10 Digital Technologies

    http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/technologies/digital-technologies/curriculum/f-10?layout=1

    This week she who must be obeyed was at a conference for Australian Curriculum, F-10 Digital Technologies. The bureaucrats didn't have a clue.

    1. Queensland is getting dumber, but only Victoria is doing OK, even NSW has gone down by 3

    2. We need more money to support DT

    3. We don’t have teachers with the expertise, if you had the expertise you would not be a teacher

    Today – boring as – a room full of the very people who are supposed to be making this better and most of them had NO idea.

    Australian Government public servants were there – sprouting on about CODING but without any understanding that kids can’t just be made to be like little monkeys copying stuff – they actually have to have a purpose to what they do, and they have to actually THINK about what they do and they actually have to SOLVE a PROBLEM with their coding - but all that is too hard for the pollies so instead they just skim across the top wanting students to “perform”….. needless to say I got quite agitated at times!

    …. I feel like crap

  36. brainout
    FAIL

    The report text is more illiterate

    Someone needs to translate the text quoted in the report. It's gibberish. So was the report writer only 16? No, clearly chronologically older, but definitely verbally challenged. A clear-thinking individual can write in simple declarative sentences. A befuddled individual writes with long words in gibberish, as shown in the article here.

    Worse, it does not follow that simply because tablets are more widespread now than in 2005, that the TABLETS are to blame for more incompetence. No one sane makes arguments like this. A bunch of other possible causes need to be ruled out. The report, is tantamount to claiming that if you have headaches and if all folks who have brain tumors have headaches, than because there are more headaches there are more brain tumors.

    Finally, I know trained surgeons who could not do on a tablet, the three tasks given the 6 and 10th year students. I do legal documents for a living, and they have problems when I email those documents, even figuring out how to print them and sign and scan them back to me. So they are clearly skilled in medicine, but despite using iPads and iPhones all day long, can't understand how to print and sign a simple form; let alone, the complex tasks in the report.

    We all know there are several different kinds of intelligence, too.

    Now, the above items should be sufficient to warrant someone concluding, 'oh gee, maybe we're doing our testing wrongly!' Ya think?

  37. Andrew 60

    Technology Consumers

    I got my first computer (Acorn Electron) in 1990 and I was 10. I started programming, guided by my uncle, and although I knew there was a lot to learn it did not seem impossible. This machine was clearly built by mere mortals, people like my father and uncles, and could be mastered.

    If you were a child aged 10 today you would only have known the technology we have now and the technology is amazing. Perhaps it just seems so advanced it might as well be magic, maybe they don't comprehend that all this technology was designed by people. Although they must be aware that "people" did design it, it does not follow that they assume they could one day be that person. So they just accept they must always be a consumer of this technology, not a creator of it.

    1. Chika
      Mushroom

      Re: Technology Consumers

      I got my first computer (Acorn Electron) in 1990 and I was 10. I started programming, guided by my uncle, and although I knew there was a lot to learn it did not seem impossible. This machine was clearly built by mere mortals, people like my father and uncles, and could be mastered.

      But that was the difference back then. The Elk was based heavily on the BBC Micro and, like a lot of the computers of that age, they expected you to learn something to the extent that some systems, especially but not exclusively the various Acorns, expected you to have the basics of a language, even if all you were doing was LOAD, CHAIN, RUN, SAVE or EXEC.

      To be honest, the generation that grew up around the various Acorns, Sinclairs, Commodores, yes even Dragons had a privileged view of the whole thing as the generations before didn't have as much opportunity and, more importantly, the generations since couldn't give a toss.

      The computer is increasingly becoming a white good, much as televisions did toward the end of the last century. My father grew up when television was the incoming thing but by the time he retired, it was a thing that everyone had. It was treated as something ordinary, nobody knew how it worked or what they needed to do to keep it working correctly except for a small group, such as the one that my father worked for, that kept things running when they stopped working. It became the box in the corner that kept everyone entertained in the evenings. I can see computers going the same way.

  38. gnarlymarley

    Why is Australia doing so badly?

    Something that we do not realize is that this could be related to the idea that when I am done with work for the day, I do not want to repeat it at home. Meaning I tend to like a variety of activity. In other words, too much of a good thing is bad. The harder I work with computers, the more I want to work with cars instead. It is a human nature balance mechanism.

    Plus, kids are probably just rebellious.

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