Dysfunctional ICT

Reading John Naughton’s piece in The Observer today about how much of a mess the teaching of computing in schools is prompted me to think of the experiences of my thirteen year old daughter.

As you might have guessed both of my daughters have been used to having all sorts of Macs around the house and using them since they were old enough to walk to do all sorts of interesting things. Mollie, who at thirteen has to take ICT as an obligatory subject, is having her head done in by a curriculum that assumes that she will end up with some wage slave job using Powerpoint and Excel. Not only does the curriculum not include much of the geekier possibilities that John talks about in his article but it doesn’t even touch on the exciting creative and social possibilities of computing.

Mollie has achieved a level of sophistication in her use of computing that amazes even me. Having shown her Scrivener she has tapped into her love of reading and has now written about 30,000 words of her own, very impressive, novel. She has taken the narrative of her novel and cajoled the avatars in Sims 3 to act it out and then done screen movies of their “acting” which she edits, adds music to, and shares on YouTube. She has also recently scripted, shot, acted in, and edited a video of four short humorous skits as part of her Spanish course. She then finds and connects with other youngsters doing cool stuff with their computers on YouTube and ends up meeting up with them at Summer In The City and talking about all the amazing things they are creating.

Sure, computers are just a means to an end, but that end can be life enhancing. Steve Jobs said a computer should be a bicycle for the mind. Shame the school system seems determined to confine them to being little more than the modern equivalent of the typewriter. Wouldn’t it be better to inspire youngsters with their potential to change the world and giving them the tools to do so?

7 thoughts on “Dysfunctional ICT

  1. Excellent points Euan, and same here. Our 11-year old has entered secondary school last week at a level that you Brits would call Grammar School: she even gets Latin in her first year, and, yes, Computer)ing)Powerpoint and Excel indeed are what she'll get taught, including other Windows stuff – and I felt the same as you do when I read through the curriculum – even though I'm not a fanboiWhat I would have liked to see among those two, seriously? The ability to write emails: the different styles, being concise, etceteraBe prepared for a truly horrible level of education at University, by the way – teachers aren't creative


  2. On the other hand, I've just finished a one-year work placement and have seen a lot of people who don't have a basic grasp of Word. People who'll paste an image or two in a Word document so that they can attach it to an email.I agree that ICT in schools doesn't work – not only does it sound painfully boring, but based on my last year pupils aren't even learning simple MS Office skills. I wonder what the balance is; teaching Office doesn't work, so is the solution to start lower down (with simple programming) or encourage the creative route (YouTube, as you said)? Or do a bit of both! Actually, I quite like the sound of that as an ICT course.


  3. I think that most who teach and administer schools are terrified of creativity – study here – How is it that people say they want creativity but in reality often reject it?" said Jack Goncalo, ILR School assistant professor of organizational behavior and co-author of research to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science. The paper reports on two 2010 experiments at the University of Pennsylvania involving more than 200 people.The studies' findings include: Creative ideas are by definition novel, and novelty can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable.People dismiss creative ideas in favor of ideas that are purely practical — tried and true.Objective evidence shoring up the validity of a creative proposal does not motivate people to accept it.Anti-creativity bias is so subtle that people are unaware of it, which can interfere with their ability to recognize a creative idea.


  4. Having made a living teaching the larger children (adults) how to use computers for the last 20+ years my suggestion would be to teach that technology can be used to enhance our ability in a wide variety of endeavours: music, arts, numeracy, business, communication and social collaboration to name just a few.Computers are just tools, the modern day pencil & paper, that can assist in the learning of all sorts of lessons. The school system having curriculum that effectively incorporates the use of technology in learning and teachers being properly equipped to do so are a different matter altogether.A young friend of ours in London, Tom Hegarty, was one of the co-founders of a very innovative program for young people called RollingSound that does a lot of creative things with technology that the school system simply isn't equipped to:http://www.rollingsound.co.uk/


  5. Dr. Eric Schmidt made this point in the MacTaggart lecture last week. He bemoaned the fact that UK schools are no longer breaking ground as they did with the investment in BBC micros in the 1980's, which gave kids the opportunity to learn how to code, and was the seed for countless software houses. Instead they're teaching kids how to use other people's software. Ok, the days of procedural code has passed, but it would still be useful to teach kids how to write a short program in BASIC or Pascal.His speech is here http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/interactive/2011/aug/26/eric-schmidt-mactaggart-lecture-full-text


  6. My daughter was part of a netbook trial in Australia – she had her own computer for years 5 & 6. I don't believe that there were any specific classes given in ICT, but they were supposed to use the machines for about half their classes and hand-in homework in softcopy.By the end of it she had used Powerpoint and Picasa to create a stop motion video (with 250 slides!) and was teaching other students about some hidden tricks in Excel. All from self exploration. She knew way more than I did about some aspects parts of the Office suite although there are some basic capabilities that she never needed to use and therefore never learnt.I have no doubt that all my kids will be competent by the time they finish school, but mostly because they want to be, not because they are taught to be.


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