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Schools Not Teaching Computer Science

Britain is in real danger of falling behind the rest of the world in the application of computer skills. This is the view of at least one person working at the cutting edge of digital technology, and it is shared by numbers of people concerned at the time lag between computer technological advances and the ability of the school system to keep up, never mind get ahead.

Alex Hope is Managing Director of special-effects film specialists Double Negative. He told Peter Stanford of the Daily Telegraph in December 2011, that ’proper computer science, the how and why of computers and how to program them is no longer taught’ in schools. ICT has now taken over.

ICT is Not Enough

But he said ICT is not the same thing, and not exactly what the country needs. He likened it to learning to read (you experience the power of the word) and learning to write (you actually create something yourself). Modern computer education turns youngsters into ‘passive users of specific software’ like Word and Excel. They often become proficient office workers, but are less at the forefront of new computer creativity.

Hope believed such material as is taught currently will soon be obsolete and what children should be learning is how ‘to code and program their own software’. A new GCSE in ‘computer science’ should be developed quickly. Youngsters need a new focus on maths, sciences, technology, art and engineering. The universities are not beyond the criticism of falling short, and should be producing ‘job-ready graduates with more specialist technical skills’.

The NextGen Skills Campaign has been launched to address the present imbalance. NESTA, National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, researched for the NextGen report co-authored by Hope and found that the sector of games and film-computer innovation alone is currently worth £2 billion to the UK.

More importantly, it has the potential to drive high value growth and innovation in the entire British GDP over the coming decades, if handled right now.

Games, VFX and Beyond

The study was originally intended to investigate the skills needs of the video games and VFX industries. However, the findings allowed wider thought on the whole computer skills base of the British workforce. As Hope said: ‘the computer is not going to go away as the key tool of the century’.

Hope believed that many teachers today do not have the basic programming skills themselves to pass on sufficient knowledge to the students. If this can be overcome, he says the benefits of growing interest in maths and science will follow. The report also pointed out that ‘soft skills’ like team work and problem solving benefit from greater awareness of and ability to explore within the technology world.

Equally, developing programming skills is ‘the fast track’ into the creative industries, which remains the highest job creating sector in the UK. He wanted to see revamped ICT a fundamental part of the curriculum with rigorous teaching to prepare our children for the digital world.

Not before time many in the world of innovation would say.

Photo: Wrc Ynapmoc