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Schoolchildren to be taught how to write software

IT curriculum change prompted by Google jibe

Pre-GSCE students will be taught how to write software, in a trial aiming to transform IT education in schools, the government has revealed.

The UK's teaching of IT in schools has long been under attack for being insufficient for motivating children to take computer science degree at university, and enter the IT profession.

Most recently, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said that he was "flabbergasted" that computer science was not taught as standard in UK schools.

"Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it's made. That is just throwing away your great computing heritage," he said at the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival last month.

An OFSTED report in 2009 also said that the current IT curriculum was failing students by not making a clear distinction between use of IT and IT as a career. Moreover, a Royal Society report last year found that school children found IT lessons boring, and that fewer children were taking IT at GCSE and A-Level. This trend appears to be continuing, as this year's A-Level results showed an eighth consecutive year of decline in the number of students taking computing.

Science minister David Willetts announced the new industry-funded trial "Behind the Screen", led by sector skills council e-skills UK, at the British Festival of Science at the University of Bradford.

"There's going to be a live pilot over two terms in schools of a programme that will transform the IT curriculum away from computer literacy, which we believe many young people can do earlier, towards instead how they develop software and computational principles; how they can create their own programmes.

"I want to see the ability to create software, to write programmes, that is one of the key functional skills for the 21st century, and young people going through school, college and university should have the opportunity to generate those skills," Willetts said, according to the Press Association.

BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, welcomed the new initiative, which is being supported by employers including IBM, Capgemini, Cisco, HP, Logica, Microsoft, National Grid, SAS, Steria, TATA, John Lewis, the Metropolitan Police Service and the BBC.

However, it added: "We also need government to give clear signals to schools that computing is important by allowing it as an option within the National Curriculum. If not, then league table pressures will mean school heads won't believe this is a subject they need to support."

Judy Baker, director of the Cyber Security Challenge, also supported the Behind the Screen project.

"If we are to plug existing skills gaps and develop the new talent we need, then young people should be excited and inspired by the curriculum in this area."

The initiative will be launched at 20 schools in England in November and run until June 2012. Around 100 students in Year 9 (aged around 14) will take part in the voluntary, extra-curricular trial, which will not result in an official qualification.

Participating schools include Manchester Grammar, Townley Grammar in Bexleyheath, Kent, Bradfield College, Reading and Park House School in Newbury.


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