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Government admits ICT education "needs reform"

But will it back real action to improve IT teaching in schools?

The government has admitted that ICT education in schools is not fit for purpose in its current state.

One of the key recommendations of the Livingstone-Hope 'Next Gen' review, published in February 2011, was for computer science to be brought into the National Curriculum as an essential discipline.

In today's response to the review, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), with input from the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS), said: "The government recognises that learning the skills to use ICT effectively and acquiring the knowledge of the underpinning computer science are two different (albeit complementary) subjects.

"Furthermore, the government recognises that the current ICT programme is insufficiently rigorous and in need of reform."

The campaigners behind Next Gen Skills, the new industry campaign to promote skills needed for hi-tech growth in Britain and to develop industry-relevant computer science courses for schools, welcomed the government's response. It said it laid the foundations for future engagement between industry and government on the issues.

Companies that have announced support for the campaign include Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Electronic Arts, Talk Talk, Sega and the Guardian Media Group.

"Government recognises ICT is in need of reform. Instead of the door being shut, it is clearly open," said Ian Livingstone, life president of video game publisher Eidos and co-author of the Next Gen review, at the launch of the Next Gen Skills campaign.

However, questions have been raised about what action the government will actually take in reforming ICT education.

For example, the government appeared cautious about committing to classifying ICT as a core skill for schoolchildren.

"[DfE ministers] are currently considering the place of all the other subjects that currently feature within the National Curriculum, including ICT, and will bring forward proposals shortly.

"If ICT were to be included as a discrete subject within the new National Curriculum, then work on a new programme of study would begin next year. As part of that process the review will consider the teaching of computer science within ICT," the government stated in its response.

In the event of ICT not being included as part of the National Curriculum, the government added that it would work with the sector to find the best way to make sure that children acquire computer science skills.

Dr Mike Reddy, senior lecturer in the department of computing and programme leader for BSc Games Development and AI at the University of Wales, Newport, said that the government response was somewhat lacklustre. He said that the government admitting that ICT teaching at present was "useless" was one of only a few concrete statements.

"It was a lot of 'ifs' and 'buts'," Reddy said. "It wasn't 'we will now consider this'."

He added: "They've opened the door a crack, with a chain on. We should shove a foot in the door. Industry needs to keep the pressure on and ask government 'what are you concretely going to do?'"

Reddy believes that one area in which government missed an opportunity to give a tangible response was to the Next Gen review's recommendations for recruiting more computer science teachers.

The government simply said that it would be "looking at the best ways to achieve this", but Reddy warned that there will not be enough new people with computer science skills going into teaching, and that the government needs to help existing teachers develop the required skills.


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