Ofqual has been consulting on its conditions and guidance for GCSE Computer Science, and UKForCE has responded with its views. We welcomed the proposal that 20% of the qualification can be assessed in non-exam form, through practical work. However, we are not sure that the proposed 20 hour project is the best way to establish competence in computer science, and may not give young people the best chance to demonstrate their capabilities.
Much has been said, asked and prophesied about jobs in the digital sector over the next 3-5 years. This framing of the debate fundamentally understates the impact of the current transition in which every business is becoming a digital business. Although some businesses will be more digital than others, 90% of the workforce will require digital skills to do their jobs. Any consideration of impact or policy in the context of a ‘digital sector’ misses the point. Digital is an attribute of businesses in all sectors and not a sector defining characteristic. To illustrate this point, consider Hassle.com, one of the new breed of digitally enabled businesses emerging from the East London technology hothouse. Hassle is an online marketplace for residential cleaning. The business succeeds because technology enables service discovery, booking,payment and reputation management. But nonetheless, Hassle is disrupting the cleaning services sector, not the digital sector. And it is the digitally savvy micro-businesses within the cleaning services sector (i.e. self-employed cleaners) who will benefit from the disruption by using Hassle to cost effectively acquire, interact with and retain their customers.
One category of loser in this transition is traditional agencies who relied upon economies of scale through greater reach and the affordability of marketing and other important business processes at their scale. The other category of loser is the self-employed cleaner who does not embrace and use digital technology to acquire the competitive edge that it offers.
It is this last point which makes the learning of core digital skills so important for all children, not just for those who will become big data analysts, game developers or rocket scientists. Being digitally intuitive will be akin to being literate or numerate – a sine qua non in the modern world.
In a polemic piece in the Guardian today Simon Jenkings argues for a shake up of the education system, and less focus on Computing or STEM.
Some of what he says about the education system being outdated has a lot of merit. But there are three huge fallacies in his assertion that we should spend less time on teaching Computing so we can focus more on the skills that employers want – i.e. communication, team working, critical thinking and problem solving.
Can anyone learn to program? I think so, and I think it’s important that those teaching computing think so too. I’ve been at a couple of conferences in the last month where the question came up, and I was really surprised by how many in these audiences thought there’d be at least some in their classes who would just not get programming. This worries me, I think because it suggests that some teachers are approaching the new curriculum with a fixed model of pupils’ ability, as if this were presented to us as a given with which to do what we can.