About Bloody Time!

Happy New Year to one and all!

It's been a while since I felt the urge to put fingers to keyboard. Apparently, I've been very busy flipping burgers. Not sure in which Quantum universe that's been happening. Here in this universe I've been very busy developing systems that could be automated. It's a never ending process as ideas pop up quicker than I can code them.

Over the years I've done lots of database applications using MS Access and programming/scripting in a variety of different languages. I haven't done much for a while, simply because I'm not a very efficient coder and I find the whole process pretty tedious. However, creating some bots has given the impetus to learn MySQL and PHP programming.

Being able to create something that makes me money certainly helps to relieve the boredom and allows me to get my creative juices flowing all the more. Which leads me on to my first gripe of the year...

I've just seen the report on BBC News about a change of emphasis in ICT classes in our schools. About bloody time!

I'd like to draw your attention to a couple of quotes that I found particularly poignant:

"Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word or Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations".

"Children are being forced to learn how to use applications, rather than to make them. They are becoming slaves to the user interface and are totally bored by it".

I'm not arguing that current ICT should suddenly switch to making everyone computer scientists. Far from it. The use of general office apps and computer skills are valuable skills that everyone should have, but even the teaching of these should have a change in emphasis in my view.

I firmly believe that we shouldn't be teaching our kids how to use Word or Excel. They should be taught how to use word processing and spreadsheet software - i.e. give kids a better understanding of how these applications work and they'll easily be able to work out how to move around the interface of any application all on their own.

I've made my living supporting Microsoft applications and training people how to use them, yet I have always been concerned by the way our kids are completely indoctrinated in the Microsoft way. Microsoft have always been keen to push their solutions into our public services, particularly our schools, with heavy discounts (though still expensive to the tax payer).

Don't be misled into thinking that they do this for altruistic reasons. No, they do it because when those kids leave school and become captains of industry, they'll be the decision makers controlling the IT budgets. Microsoft know if those people have already been indoctrinated, they're more than likely turn to Microsoft again.

In the vast majority of cases those future decision makers would likely turn to Microsoft anyway. However, I think it would be much better for our kids, the companies that they work for in the future and the wider economy as a whole, that our children are given a much rounder and unbiased grounding in ICT, without being unduly influenced at the tax payers expense.

While I am happy that there is a drive to change the teaching of ICT in our schools, I fear that it may not go far enough. Here's hoping I'm wrong.


Flutter F1 said...

Interesting points - although I feel we are about to enter a massive battle in the world of tablet/pad style pc's when Microsoft enter the market with their Windows 8 tablets later in the year. I have seen a few hints from them they really believe this is the future and I can imagine a number of companies looking to get their products into schools. Imagine how big a deal it would be to get school contracts (maybe even on a national scale) to supply tablets in education - they will eventually replace pen and paper as the costs come down, and I can see Microsoft forcing their way into that market - if they don't they will get left behind.

PhilipH said...

Hi Al, wondered where you've been of late! Flipping burgers? Ho ho.
You make some valid points. MS now seems to rule the roost in most homes and businesses and obviously people stick with the biggest player. In the 70s and 80s we used to see "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM"; nowadays it's the same for MS.
I used to program in COBOL on old ICL mainframes bought by HM Customs VAT centre in Southend on Sea as the MOD found they were not powerful enough for their needs, but were OK for VAT accounting etc.
When I retired early and went to work as a finance officer for a school in Lincolnshire using an Elonex to run the budget. Sometimes I'd be in a class where the kids were using spreadsheets but the 'teacher' had no real clue as to how to use, let alone teach, this discipline. I would help one or two of the pupils when they asked how to do this or that.
I would guess that most ten-year olds and older would now be able to teach the topic better than the teacher.
An interesting subject. What we know and use today will soon be as obsolete as the ZX80 and this is one of the big problems. Technology races ahead at an exponential rate of knots and many older people (especially me) will have to give up the struggle to keep in step.
Hope all goes well with you and yours. Have a good 2012

Alistair Hamilton said...

There are three areas I am concerned about:

1. The quality and the type of subjects covered by ICT lessons in the UK. If the intention is to simply churn out kids who can work in an office environment, then no change is required. Though, having given training courses to hundreds, many of them recent school leavers, and seen the standard of those delegates, such ICT lessons ain't working.

I applaud the proposed changes if the lead ICT away from simply teaching the kids the interface of a limited set of applications. I'd like to see the emphasis change so that kids are encoutaged to unlock their creativity through the use of computers. And I don't just mean graphics design, or computer programming.

Kids are being taught how to 'use' Excel for example, but are they being encouraged to explore its use in their advanced mathematics or physics course? No.

That's the change of emphasis I want to see.

2. As a tax payer, I object to the way my money is spent on propriatry systems when there are other solutions out there. As I mentioned in my original post, I am concerned about the subsequent indoctrination of our kids by any commercial organisation. I believe it is the public sector's duty to resist that.

That is not to say that such organisations should be blocked from tendering for public sector contracts. Of course not. If, for technical reasons, such solutions provide the desired results then they should be considered, as long as they provide value for money for the tax payer (a laudable, yet laughable goal given the record of public sector IT projects).

Getting back to the educational sector though, kids should be made aware that there are other solutions out there, not just Microsoft. Kids should be taught generic topics rather than specifics. That way, when they do become decision makers of the future, they will be better informed of the options available.

3. Flutter raised an interesting point regarding technological advances and in particular, the use of tablet PCs in schools.

I'm not a tablet user. I cannot see any requirement for me given the way I do things. However, I can certainly see how they'd be of great benefit in school.

If we give our kids tablet PCs, what do we give them? An iPad will, lock them in to the world of Apple. Persumably a Microsoft tablet, when they arrive, will do much the same for Microsoft.

It is this lock in process that I am particularly uncomfortable with. It is bad enough in business where many feel the need to jump on a perpetual Microsoft upgrade train in order to keep up with suppliers and customers who make the change - even though, internally, there'd be no need to do so.

Should we be doing the same to or kids?

As regular readers will know, I am a Linux user. I fully switched some 4-5 years ago. Even my daughter's machine ran Linux. She was perfectly happy with it, and could do everything she wanted and needed to do. Yet her school kept telling her that she had to use Windows and Microsoft applications in order to submit her work.

What right does a school, or any public body for that matter, have to tell its users that they MUST use one application over another?

Anyway, I digress.

The bottom line is, despite the reservations I have outline above, changes to the ICT curriculum have to be welcome. At the moment, it is failing our kids and ultimately failing employers.

I await with interest to see the changes being made.