Digital Literacy v Computer Programming

It has been really gratifying to be part of the ISANet, to help inspire and develop a national project to take schools and their communities to ‘the cloud’.  As the local paper, the Maidenhead Advertiser reports, we went live this last week with our work in conjunction with the Independent Schools Association and Google.  Three things have been created; a vision for how schools can integrate their entire productivity backbone, how teachers and pupils can access anytime, any where both the tools to be productive and the information to go with it, and a training programme from beginner to certified trainer in tools for the job that will serve you in good stead anywhere and in any language in the globe.  Now that’s some project, and I guess why Google were happy for me to talk about the ISAGrid for Schools and the Google Apps training programmes at the British Educational Training and Technology (BETT 2012) exhibition on Wednesday and Saturday last week.  Even more fun on the Saturday was the presence of the home team from school; not just to see ‘the Boss’ speak, but to continue their separate journeys to find and secure engaging and innovative solutions to keep what we do  inspiring!

It’s with a rueful smile that I report that Mr Gove doesn’t actually thing schools are doing a good job with technology; in his view lessons are dull and boring, and what we should be doing is to be far more innovative and imaginative and teach children computer programming.  Yep, that’s right – instead of encouraging children to engage with tools, ideas, technology and the 21st century, our Secretary of State  wants us to go back (1980s) to the future and teach them ‘coding’.  Hmmm.  Even with the best will in the world, the vast majority of the flower of British Youth will tell Mr Gove precisely what he can do with that kind of prescription.

It’s not that Mr Gove is wholly wrong; we need to help our ‘computer experts of the future’ have the opportunities to acquire such skills at a young age.  The company behind www.clairescourt.com is run by a past pupil, Bob Barker whose one of the brightest I know at this coding stuff, and our virtual school has been a standout plus point for the organisation for a decade or more, thanks to Shinytastic.  But the trouble is, we don’t actually know the jobs we need to be training them for; one man’s Website meat is another man’s mobile App poison.  You see the thing about a virtual world is that it is at least as big as the world, and actually in many ways can be a whole many more dimensions larger than that, because it can be.  Our digital guru has as many different roles as business will permit; ‘coding’ is just one part of a myriad of solutions we need. Who is going to ensure we are ‘favourite’ on the search engine’, whose going to blend our channels, etc (I am making the language up!).  In addition to our traditional website presence, we are currently running a School Management system integrating our entire working community, together with an entirely separate Google Apps domain for teaching and learning, an increasingly complex Facebook and Twitter presence to watch and comment, with lots of blogging and posting in all sorts of ways.  What with one thing and another, we are in danger of having up to 1500 people online for CCS every day in some way or other, pupils, teachers, LSAs, admin, Sysadmin, not to mention our ‘digital’ visitors.

But Mr Gove is of course focussing in on the children, and there are indeed plenty who complain that their experience at school is SOOOO much duller than their life at home, on screen.  And given that Electronic Media is big business, why wouldn’t we want to rally to the cry to populate the next generation of C++ jobs when they arise, rather than outsource the work (and therefore the Jobs) to the 1 billion South East Asian graduates who can do the work?  And Mr Gove is right to point out the differences between school and home; he does it all the time.  After all, he believes children should read 50 books a year, and that children should read the Harry Potter oeuvres by 11.  Indeed he quotes the Charter School exemplar in the States that do just this, knocking UK child readers from 17 into 25 place in the world order of things.  And I’ll even go with him on the ‘spare the teenage Nation ‘Of Mice and Men’ – though a great book and one everyone should read, but not the only one for goodness sake that is the required read at 16?

The trouble is that it’s case of throwing out Babies with Bathwater; if  we ditch teaching Digital Literacy in favour of Computer programming as he directs, it would be as heinous a crime as if we ditched teaching reading and spelling in favour of writing.  Where on earth are the JK Rowlings of tomorrow to come from if the breadth of their education is narrowed to just one of the composite of skills we actually need to teach.  The real point is that the nations’ children don’t have a proper balanced programme young enough.  I am utterly fed-up of being lectured to by Government ministers and educational experts alike who keep referring to achievement outcomes of 16 and 18 year olds, without recognising that it actually all happens between the ages of 6 and 13.  So narrow is the diet of the junior National curriculum before age 11 as measured by primary school league tables, that the whole focus is on English and Maths, and sack the rest of it.

So yes, let’s teach programming to our children, but let’s also teach blogging and collaborating, sharing in real time and using technology, and lets make sure that all those at primary school can be have the opportunity to be inspired by paint and craft, bat and ball, dance and public speaking and fill their boots to overflowing too.  And I wo9uld say that wound’t I, because I know there is one school in our town where that happens in abundance – just go here to see what younger children can achieve in their virtual worlds – CCS has been digital since the ZX81 and BBC micro, and it shows – http://goo.gl/G4kPZ .

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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