Whatever you may think about this change of direction and emphasis, as a professional body we have to take note of one very important fact about young people. The children in our schools absorb the new technologies in their home life with great gusto, yet ICT lessons in school are amongst the dullest and boring they experience. The Royal Society is conducting a year long study into this area.
If young people are put off careers in IT because they see IT as dull, this will have a significant impact on our economy and international competitiveness.
Given the rapid developments in IT over the last 20 years though and with the likely changes in the next 20 years, what would you consider to be the core knowledge and skills that young people should know if they want to become part of the IT discipline as adults.
Also, for those who will be users rather than creators of the next generation IT what should they know to be IT literate for the workplace?
Indeed, what jobs will exist in the UK in IT in 10 years from now?
In the 1930s a computer was a person who computed, today it is a machine. Many of the interesting developments in algorithms are coming from quantitative biology. When will a computer be thought of as an organism? Will Physics and maths be the route to quantum computing, but biology and maths to bio-computing? If so, when should this should be reflected in school curriculums?
It's much easier, in my experience, to teach computer skills to someone with good graphic skills than it is to teach drawing to an adult programmer.
Not just in IT, but across the whole Science agenda, standards of mathematics in the UK are far from world class. There is evidence to show this poor performance going back over 100 years. That I think is the single biggest challenge we face as an underpinning to developments in IT.
My own thinking on this leads me to a belief that systems thinking and programming should be at the core of A level. The ability to take a problem and solve it logically and an understanding of how systems work are useful life skills, not just the foundations of computing.
I remember a lecture of Seymour Papert probably 30 years ago. The words may not be exact but the spirit of his lecture was:
"Do not teach children about computers, use computers to teach them about the world".
Despite the rapid evolution of the technologies in the intervening years, I'd still sign up to that philosophy.
My own experience is that the schools which have used IT wisely see IT as an environment as much as a subject. I have seen really interesting and innovative practice in our schools using IT in music, art, maths and history. I think I share the youngsters’ view that I've seen less of it in IT teaching itself.
I worry that a focus on short term measurable skills is what makes the curriculum boring for both teachers and pupils.
I hope we will all support the Royal society's important efforts in this area. The viability of our future profession in the UK needs this issue to be solved.
About the author
Chris Yapp is a technology and policy futurologist. Chris has been in the IT industry since 1980. His roles have spanned Honeywell, ICL, HP, Microsoft and Capgemini. He is a Fellow of the BCS and a Fellow of the RSA.