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August 6, 2010

Schools fail to interest pupils in computer science

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by Darren Allan

It seems that ICT, Information and Communication Technologies, is not one of the more popular subjects at school.

Back in our day (at the risk of sounding like an old git), it was called Computer Studies, and classes were packed with kids who wanted to play around with procedures on BBC Micros rather than try to solve equations or read Thomas Hardy.

But according to The Royal Society, the number of pupils studying computing has fallen quite dramatically as recently as the last three years.

Numbers of ICT GCSE candidates have fallen by a third in the last three years, and A Level ICT students have also dropped by a third, albeit over six years. A Level Computing candidates have slid by 57% over the past eight years.

There’s considerable concern over this decline, which is why The Royal Society is heading up a study, along with professional bodies, representatives of higher education and teachers, to uncover the reasons behind the drop, and possible remedies.

The Royal Society makes the point that the future economic prosperity of the UK could be affected by this lack of IT enthusiasm amongst tomorrow’s workforce.

This plummeting level of interest comes even though computers and technological devices are far more widespread in their use by the younger generation outside of school today.

Although perhaps that is the reason – that ICT seems so dry compared to what kids are now firmly accustomed to, it’s a total turn-off. Indeed, The Royal Society states its belief that the “design and delivery of ICT and computer science curricula in schools is so poor that students’ understanding and enjoyment of the subjects is severely limited.”

On a grand scale, the solution isn’t too difficult to see, then: Make the subject more interesting and relevant.

Story link: Schools fail to interest pupils in computer science


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9 Comments »
  1. Its no surprise, by the time they have got out of school, what they’ve learned is meaningless and the qualification they get does not mean much in commercial terms, they would have to get certification from commercial bodies.

    Comment by Gareth — August 6, 2010 @ 11:52 am

  2. The reason is clear; most people know a lot more about computers than the course can teach them - would anybody really take a qualification which didn’t teach them much more than they knew already, took two years and a lot of unnecessary, uninteresting effort to achieve and blocked them taking a far more interesting and relevant course???

    Comment by Boby — August 6, 2010 @ 12:39 pm

  3. If the pupils were taught ‘real life’ computer studies, eg. virtualisation and related subjects, to build projects which are relative to now, rather than pushing a mouse around and writing documents, then perhaps there would be more interest. Another question is, “What do the ‘teachers’ know, to start with?”

    Comment by Nic — August 6, 2010 @ 9:24 pm

  4. What we need is to trash the basic stuff and get the course focusing on programming etc. The link between the growing use of computers and the decreasing interest in ICT courses is obvious; kids are increasingly using computers at home and already know as much if not more as the teachers teaching them. The basic stuff is boring; why study something that everyone knows already when you can learn something new?

    I know this because I took AS Level ICT instead of GCSE ICT for my 2 GCSE years in 08/09. When signing up for the course, I didn’t think I would be sat doing coursework that had us taking screenshots of the steps taken to do the most basic of things in word processors, such as creating a mail merge, which everyone on the course already knew.

    The courses should be redesigned to focus more on programming, and stuff that kids aren’t likely to know. Out of the 30 students who took AS ICT, only 2 actually continued onto A2, with the rest of us, including me, deciding to take more worthwhile subjects.

    Comment by Nick — August 7, 2010 @ 5:31 pm

  5. The people commentating could not be more correct. Last year I finished a BTEC National Diploma IT Practitioners as a mature student and the tutors consistently managed to impress us with their lack of knowledge. The fact that everything has to be screenshot to prove that you can do it is slow, time consuming and boring. The time spent programming in the programming units was probably less than 50%. The rest of the time was spent creating documents, etc. This could have been done in the systems development unit, but wasn’t.

    If you want an easy course that teaches you hardly anything but gets you into university, follow this route. I was so disheartened with the subject that I did a foundation year engineering course at a decent university. This year has been fun and much more interesting, doing a lot more programming working with matlab, well, scripting. Point is, a BND is pretty useless in the real world, but does get your higher education off to a kick start. I am just about to start a first year physics degree. All from doing some BND. Not bad from a two time A-level drop out.

    Comment by Glenn — August 8, 2010 @ 12:39 pm

  6. I have a passion for IT, My school HATES the fact I am into ICT. My teacher was having an affire with one of the students and giving them straight As thought out the IT levels, now its coming up to six form and ive been told “ICT wont suit me”, ive been developing AJAX,HTML,PHP,MYSQL and multiple cloud applications and the school just ignores me and believes im a waste of space. This is what puts me off IT, its the teachers, they have no faith within there students nor wanting to, They have a skill and want to “show it off” but never hand it down to students.

    Comment by Oliver — August 8, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

  7. I too am not surprised at what the article is saying. I’ve just finished an A Level in ‘Applied ICT’ and to be perfectly honest I’ve wasted 2 years of my life pratting around doing coursework; storyboards, methodology and the likes. How people ‘learn’ ICT is changing I think mainly because of how we’re now surrounded by it anyway and it is one of those things you learn by yourself over time. Dreamworks is not learning ICT.

    Predicted Grade: U

    Comment by Ryan — August 8, 2010 @ 4:06 pm

  8. Most people do not know a lot more about computers than the course can teach them. They know less.

    Educational standards have fallen but programming is still an option in GCSE Computer Studies.

    Using or operating a computer does not resemble core commercial IT.

    Comment by Willuk — August 8, 2010 @ 4:18 pm

  9. Have to agree with the other comments, the simple answer is to teach the interesting elements of computing not the boring day to day stuff.

    Back when I was at school I remember being bitterly disappointed when I was told there would be no programming in our IT lessons. These lessons were simply a waste of time for anyone with a real interest in computers.

    Comment by Wayne — August 8, 2010 @ 4:24 pm

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