I recently discovered a new initiative called Code Club (http://www.codeclub.org.uk/) which attempts to introduce computer programming to children in year 5 and 6, via hour long after-school clubs. It is a volunteer-led programme, with no cost to schools, assuming that they already have PCs or Macs upon which to run the software, called Scratch (http://scratch.mit.edu/).

The scheme is designed to encourage creativity and problem solving skills by creating fun games, but the long term benefit could be an interest in a subject that leads to a rewarding career in programming.

My eldest son will be in year two from September 2012, so is too young to participate in this club at this time, but as a web developer/programmer with twelve years experience, I have offered my services as a volunteer to hold a code club at his school. I’m still waiting for a response from them, but I know at least one school in the Waltham Forest area (Chingford, Walthamstow, Leyton, Leytonstone) that is interested in bringing the club to their school. What we need now is to get the word out to as many Schools and potential volunteers as possible. Parents need to approach their schools if they like the idea. Schools need to make their interest known and locate potential volunteers, perhaps even existing parents. Volunteers need to contact schools and offer their services. Let’s just spread the word and get more schools and volunteers hooked up.

But don’t schools already do ICT (Information and Communications Technology) lessons?

You may or may not be aware that the ICT curriculum has long been due an overhaul as it fails to challenge children, and hasn’t kept up with modern technology. Because of this, Michael Gove announced that the ICT curriculum was to be suspended, and a revised version is not due until September 2014 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/aug/20/ict-teaching-programming-no-guidance).

This means that ICT co-ordinators are now being left to come up with their own curriculum for the next couple of years. I don’t think anyone is under the impression that ALL ICT teachers were blindly following the outdated curriculum, but it widely known that ICT in many schools is led as a secondary concern by a teacher of another subject, rather than someone with specialist knowledge, and that this *usually* leads to a lack of knowledge about what specifically to teach, even if they venture away from the curriculum.

Not all schools are lucky enough to have an ICT Co-ordinator with enough knowledge AND the inclination or confidence to teach children something more useful. For example, at the time I was at school in the 90s, ICT was lead by a teacher from the maths department. The only ICT related subject at that time was an optional word processing “exam”. He was a little upset when I broke (by doing little more than pressing the BREAK key on the keyboard) into the school library system at school and looked at the code. I’d been programming since the age of 7 thanks to an introduction to BASIC from my Uncle, so I knew what was going on and how to restart it, but I was dragged out of class and berated for it. Thankfully it didn’t put me off that I knew more than the teachers did, and had external influences to kept me interested in a subject that I now have a career in. Not all children have that opportunity though, and this is what a course like CodeClub aims to rectify until the official curriculum is replaced, and perhaps beyond.

How CodeClub fits in with STEM

On top of this, STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Maths) subjects, while performing reasonably well, could do with a boost in terms of students studying those subjects at a higher level (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/occams-corner/2012/aug/17/a-level-science-subjects).

To counter this, STEMNET (http://www.stemnet.org.uk/) aims to recruit ambassadors in those fields to talk, inspire and teach students and provide opportunities to visit schools and colleges and give your expert insight. If you are in a relevant industry or studied a related subject at a higher level, you may have something to offer, particularly if you are different from the stereotypical person in that field. Women and those who took an unusual career route are desirable.

From my experience, it seems like a lot of focus is on traditional Science subjects such as Physics, Chemistry and Biology, but Web Developers like myself still have something to offer. STEMNET asks that you perform one activity each year to fulfil your duties, so a weekly after school CodeClub session would count towards that, as long as you notify them of your intention to hold a club, prior to visiting, so that it is covered by their insurance and funding.

Crucially, the CodeClub CRB requirements are fulfilled for free by registering with STEMNET.

The future of ICT

So what sort of subjects could and should be taught as part of ICT? Some of the traditional topics taught in ICT are still useful, but it needs to be supplemented with more theory and understanding of what they do online and why, particularly when it comes to technology they have grown up with and probably feel safer than they actually are when it comes to the internet. Off the top of my head, I can think of:

  • Online Safety, Protecting your identity, Social Engineering (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_engineering_(security))
  • Viruses, Antivirus Software and Malware
  • Data Protection Act, Digital Rights, Copyright, and Ethics
  • Programming/Coding – basic elements, processes, logic, problem solving.
  • Components of a computer system, and how to use a computer, networks and the Internet.
  • Word processing and Spreadsheets (yes, it still has a place in the curriculum)
  • Mobile applications – What they are, how they work.
  • Publishing – Desktop publishing has been replaced by online publishing, user generated content, on YouTube, social networking, blogs, websites, and so on.

Leave your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love to hear from teachers, students and employers. What do you think should be in the ICT curriculum in order to push their knowledge and provide them with something they can use in the real world?

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