Technology in Education - How to use it vs How to develop it
March 2013, Katie Nicholson
Last month I attended the BETT Exhibition at Excel in London. For those of you who are unfamiliar with BETT, it is the British Educational Training and Technology show and has been taking place annually in London since 1985.
BETT is a global community where individuals discover technology for education and lifelong learning. The exhibition embraces innovative solutions that inspire, in order to shape and improve the way people learn from classroom to boardroom.
In times where modern learning environments are becoming more mobile and 'learning anywhere' is more of a possibility, the BETT exhibition gave visitors the opportunity to explore how technology can power learning, raise attainment and increase efficiency.
I was particularly impressed with the exhibition and what it had to offer. I have been out of school for almost 8 years and the first thing that struck me was the advancements in the technologies being promoted to educational establishments.
My earliest memory of using a computer was during weekly 'extra-curricular' computer lessons which consisted of learning how to do 'things' in MS DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System). On reflection, I have no idea what I was being taught, and the only tangible benefit I gained, was the confidence to use a computer. I have never actually made use of any MS DOS Skills I acquired.
I started secondary school at about the same time as dial up internet connections were becoming commonplace. At home I used AOL to talk to friends and I.T Lessons then consisted of learning how to use Microsoft Word whilst not being caught 'hotmailing' your friend on the other side of the classroom. Looking back, I never had any knowledge or indeed interest in how computers, software and the internet actually worked. I was never offered the opportunity to learn about computer programming and consequently didn't give it much thought.
By contrast 'some' years earlier, PDMS' Technical Director, Mike Bromwich fondly remembers his introduction to computers with the commodore Pet - followed by a GCE 'O' Level in Computer Studies. The syllabus he was taught included programming simple computers using switches and lights, writing programs (by hand) onto squared paper, and studying algorithms and circuit diagrams.
As technology and the internet have become more ubiquitous, there has been a change in emphasis in the teaching curriculum, from learning about the "nuts and bolts" of computers and programming, to simply learning how to use software packages.
Last year, Education secretary Michael Gove's BETT 2012 speech, in which he criticised the teaching of ICT, put the spotlight back on to how ICT is taught in schools. He said 'schools, teachers and industry leaders have all told us that the current curriculum is too off-putting, too demotivating, too dull.'
Bill Mitchell, director of learned society at the British Computer society (BCS), was quick to respond. 'If the UK expects to remain an advanced economy, it has to out-educate every other country on earth. If you look at India and China, they are producing hundreds and thousands of graduates. That means that we have to have a better education system starting from primary school onwards. Computing is now essential to all science and engineering'.
Through my involvement with The Manx ICT Association (MICTA), I have come to understand that, as an island community, we are facing the same ICT skills gap as the UK. The opportunities for skilled programmers and developers are abundant both in terms of career choices and salary potential. However the pool of talent does not appear to be growing at the same speed.
Specific skills are often required for students when they leave full time education and become part of the workforce. Steve Beswick, director of education at Microsoft UK believes that the creativity aspect is important: "We still believe that things like Excel need to be taught, as many jobs still need this skill and it should not be forgotten."
However, how does teaching a student to use excel to do certain calculations compare to giving them the empowerment to think outside the box and understand how the programme works? In today's economy, technology is a fundamental part of any business. We need to equip young people with the skills to be able to create the new innovative software and technology solutions that will help drive economic growth.
Here at PDMS, the people in our team who develop software and maintain our technical networks, are the people whose interest in IT went far beyond what the limited high school curriculum covered in information technology. Often their interest and enthusiasm meant that they spent a considerable amount of time out of the class room finding out more, experimenting and ultimately teaching themselves. If we are going to stand any chance of filling the IT skills gap and of developing a new generation of technology pioneers, we need to stimulate, nurture and support this enthusiasm in the classroom.