Nicki Cooper explains how IT teachers can embellish the curriculum to prepare digital native children for real-world careers.

As a teacher, I was recently asked to consider my subject and its relevance within the IT industry. Teachers work hard to ensure our students have all the knowledge and skills required to pass their exams; that’s a requirement of our job, isn't it? Or, is our job actually to ensure that students learn real-world skills for their future careers? Surely, these two things should be synonymous – but are they really?

After discussing the curriculum content with my husband, who’s worked in various roles within the IT industry, he confirmed what I’d suspected: that much of it is not relevant to industry. However, he suggested that what’s more important is maintaining students' interest in the subject by making the content engaging and interesting – as this, ultimately, is what will entice children into the industry in the future. A valid point.

While he did question the relevance of parts of the key stage 3 curriculum (in particular Boolean logic and binary numbers, which are more specialised skills), being able to use the core MS Office products and key IT skills remain essential across industries. This is why it’s crucial that digital literacy is not lost during the growth of computing.

Many assume that today's children know these basic IT skills already, referring to them as digital natives but from experience, this is where skills are most lacking – due, in part, to the increased use of touch screen devices such as tablets.

To program or not to program?

While a want of programming language knowledge won’t prevent someone from having a successful career in IT, having these skills could help to complete work more efficiently, by writing scripts to automate tasks and being able to decompose problems – skills which many in industry can struggle with.

Teaching programming is such a beneficial skill – not just for those wishing to pursue a computing-related career. In fact, learning to be an efficient problem-solver, with the ability to break problems down is beneficial to almost any career path – and indeed, life in general!

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Cybersecurity is also an important area that gets overlooked. In fact, the topic is not introduced in the programme of study until key stage 3 (age 11-14) with 'understand a range of ways to use technology safely, respectfully, responsibly and securely'. Emphasis is often placed on staying safe online, which is equally valid.

Security doesn't feature explicitly on the key stage 2 (age 7-11) programme of study at all; however, it is something that can be introduced alongside internet safety. My students are developing a ‘Keeping My Grown-ups Safe Online’ guide – dual purpose, as parents have missed this key information in their own schooling – a point I discovered recently by chatting to friends, all of whom thought you had to click ‘accept cookies’ to be able to use a website!

A passion for computing

The aim, particularly within the primary curriculum, is to generate a real love for the subject. As teachers, our goal is to create an engaging and vibrant curriculum around the programme of study that will give children a real passion for computing.

Physical computing is a great way to do this. Although key stage 1 students (age 5-7) certainly enjoy using robots, using a mouse and keyboard is a real novelty, too, as they are so used to using touch screens.

Students think I am magical because I can type without looking at the keyboard: a skill one child was so impressed with that she relayed it to her grown-up when she saw me in Costa Coffee!

It's little things like this that make a big difference. Some might not consider delivering lessons on touch-typing, but the children love it – and no one can argue that being able to type isn't a valid skill in industry!

So, in summary, let's just keep it engaging so children actually want to enter the industry and ensure we're not missing out on the key IT skills along the way.

About the author

Nicki Cooper is a computing teacher and member of the CAS community, working in the primary phase. She has won teaching awards with Microsoft, recognising her work in engaging girls into computing.