Technologies and platforms need to be embedded into lessons where they are crucial to a future career in that subject, says Open University director Kevin Streater.
The Royal Society report released on Friday is expected to make several recommendations about the way IT is taught and used in schools.
Some will be hoping for a clear signal that computer science should be reintroduced as a discipline and that the days of teaching office skills to pupils are numbered. Both those points are valid but bigger challenges remain – along with even bigger rewards for getting IT in schools right.
The direction of travel in education suggests that ICT, the national curriculum subject, might be replaced with a statutory requirement for digital literacy to be a part of the curriculum for five- to 19-year-olds. This approach will explain to pupils how to live life as a digital citizen and introduce concepts such as e-safety.
At the same time it’s crucial that specific technologies and platforms are embedded into lessons where they are most relevant and crucial to a future career in that subject.
For example, Google Earth should be used in geography, records-indexing in history, data processing in biology and analysis software in maths.
If pupils are exposed to the way technology is used in the workplace, they will find it easier to succeed in higher education and careers where it is an essential part of the process.
There is no doubt that teachers are the experts in education and the IT industry should not be telling them how to do their job.
But the IT industry has a very important role to play in helping provide teachers with the tools they need to create better lessons and inspire their pupils.
The Open University’s Vital programme addresses these issues by providing professional development for educators and a source of online materials that has over 7,200 registered users.
This programme works with IT skills sector council e-skills UK, the BCS Computing at School group and a host of industry names to…
…create physical and online meeting spaces and resources for teachers to use in schools.
Vital provides subject-specific web portals across the curriculum which identify teaching resources and advise on how to use them effectively, as well as providing opportunities for discussion and sharing between practitioners.
Vendors wanting to increase the use and availability of technology among our children and create brand loyalty in a new generation should realise the possibilities that a programme such as Vital affords.
Organisations of calibre of Apple, Google and Microsoft regularly bring out new technology. But it can often take three to four years for these new developments to reach teachers and create early adopters in the classroom.
Other pressing issues for schools will include how to deal with the vast amount of assessment data they possess. The expertise of enterprise IT companies could be invaluable in helping the education system maximise the impact of technology.
The IT industry could also help bring schools into the cloud. With a variety of devices available both through school and at home, it’s not always easy for teachers to make best use of the way technology works. These are the kind of issues that Vital hopes to address in the future with input from the industry.
As a computer scientist myself, I would be delighted if more school children learnt basic programming and got a start in computer science – but let’s not lose sight of the big picture and the real opportunities. We have to give pupils and schools the very best technology available. I hope and believe the Royal Society report will reflect this.
Kevin Streater is executive director, employer engagement for the IT and telecoms industry at the Open University.