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‘Open-Source’ Curriculum To Revolutionise ICT Teaching

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Experts explain why abandoning the ICT curriculum for two years is a good idea

For the next two years, IT in British schools is going to go “open source”.

This week, the Department for Education (DoE) approved a plan to fight the shortage of IT professionals in the UK. From September, the current ICT curriculum will be scrapped, including all targets and assessments.

A new National Curriculum, including ICT studies, is being introduced, but not until September 2014. This leaves teachers with two years of freedom to experiment with the subject. Results will be monitored, to help create new programmes of study, fit for the 21st century.

The situation was labelled an “open source curriculum” at a meeting in London today. the Westminster Education Forum to discuss the possible outcomes of this project.

Out with the old

A recent government consultation found the existing ICT curriculum unfit for purpose. Over half of respondents were in favour of “disapplying” the programmes of study and around half were in favour of disapplying the attainment targets and statutory assessment arrangements. Based on these findings, the DoE has decided to abandon the old model, but it’s not in a rush to offer a replacement.

“The central government is not best placed to define what skills pupils need to acquire. The world is moving fast, the technology is moving even faster, hence the proposal to disapply the existing ICT curriculum,” said Dr Vanessa Pittard, head of the technology policy unit at the DoE, speaking at the Westminster Education Forum, a gathering of  teachers, IT industry professionals and politicians.

Of course, schools will still be required to teach ICT at all key stages, but for at least two years the teachers, not the government, will decide how to do it best. There will be no rules and no success criteria. Teachers will be offered various industry-created training schemes, but the aim of this experiment is to innovate and “grow” the new curriculum.

Speaking at the event, Dr Eben Upton, executive director of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, admitted he always carried a Raspberry Pi with him, in case he met someone who was interested in learning computing. However, he also noted there was nothing educational about the device itself, saying that the greatest achievement of Raspberry Pi was that “it was cheap”.

Upton said part of the problem was that many households have one “home” PC, and children are usually not allowed to play with it, for fear of malware and expensive repairs. Though it is a cheap computer, the Raspberry Pi Foundation was trying to provide an opportunity to learn, not the learning experience itself.

Upton also suggested that in order to make ICT attractive, schools must focus on real benefits for students, saying that, in his personal experience, there was “quite a bit of money” in IT jobs.

In with the new

Miles Berry, the chairman of the ICT association NAACE, chose to call the new programme an “open source curriculum”. According to Berry, the weak ideas won’t survive the open environment, while the strong ideas will thrive. Meanwhile, the responsibility of the government is to provide “source code”, the basis for teaching that can be tweaked and changed.

Eileen Poh, head of business and the IT department at Hendon School in London, argued that ICT does not need re-branding, it just needs a make-over. Poh said non-specialist teachers who lacked knowledge had to be dealt with.

She also proposed several levels of study, comparing the ICT field to the automotive industry. There were people making cars, people servicing cars, and people driving cars. Not everyone needs to know how the car is made. The challenge was to separate the engineers from the drivers and make sure everyone knows enough to be successful in their chosen profession.

Despite the shortcomings of the existing curriculum, there is real potential in the UK for world-class ICT education. Cheap devices like Raspberry Pi have helped achieve equal access to computers for children from different backgrounds. The Internet has made specialist information easily available, and more girls are getting into IT than ever before. “Everything we need is already there, we just need to use our resources better,” said Poh.

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