ICT - does it have to be dull?

  • 15 March 2012
  • From the section Technology
  • comments

Just how dull is ICT? The school subject - Information and Communications Technology - has had a very bad press over the last year. From ICT teachers themselves, to businesses looking to recruit young people with computer skills, to the government, it seems that nobody thinks that ICT is fit for purpose.

Now it is time to hear from those on the sharp end - the school students who have to suffer the subject. Pupils at Lampton School in Hounslow have been taking part in the BBC School Report project - and the subject the eager young newsmakers wanted to investigate was ICT.

I spent a morning helping them with their report, and started by showing them our recent report on the launch of the Raspberry Pi computer, which has been designed to reignite interest in learning computing skills in schools.

Then the team of reporters, camera operators and editors set out on their task. They interviewed pupils, filmed an ICT lesson, and contacted Professor Steve Furber from Manchester University over Skype.

He told them "the fact that a lot of pupils find it boring" was the core problem with ICT, but said projects like Raspberry Pi could help to make the subject less tedious. As the man who designed the groundbreaking BBC Micro 30 years ago, Professor Furber knows a bit about inspiring interest in computing.

But the pupils seemed moderately enthusiastic about the subject and Lampton's Head of ICT David Lawley mounted a robust defence of how it was taught: "I don't think it's boring at all," he told his interrogators, explaining that the school had always tried to keep pace with developments in computing and technology.

This school may be exceptional in having a group of teachers who seem determined to bring a measure of excitement to the subject. As well as ploughing through a curriculum which is heavy with the kind of office skills which gave ICT a bad name, they do appear to be introducing more interesting material, such as making games or learning some simple coding.

And while there appears to be plenty of evidence of dull ICT education across the country, I sense something of a backlash from teachers, aggrieved that their efforts are not being recognised.

In a bid to flush out some evidence of good practice, I consulted a well-known social media platform: "Calling all ICT teachers," I tweeted, "seeking views on whether your subject really is as dull as ditchwater."

The responses flooded in. There were a couple who agreed that ICT was pretty dull, and there was also a spirited conversation between two tweeters about the merits of teaching spreadsheets - generally considered the most boring activity imaginable.

But the majority were eager to convince me their lessons weren't boring. Here's a selection:

"There's amazing work being done in primary and lower secondary ICT, not so much in GCSE."

" Depends who is teaching it. I happen to think Computer Architecture is very interesting and so do my students."

"It's dull teachers that make ICT dull. It can be fun. See @technocamps in Swansea."

"Come visit my school, sit in my lessons, see if that's true."

"Have you seen some the ground breaking and inspiring stuff that gets mentioned on Twitter? Certainly not dull in primary schools."

Now this is a self-selecting group - ICT teachers on Twitter may be more enthusiastic about the subject and more determined to make it interesting than most.

The conclusion, however, seems to be that at junior levels, with committed teachers, the subject can be stimulating - but that gets harder as they get older and the curriculum gets more restrictive.

Now the government has decided that the ICT curriculum is up for grabs, telling schools in England they have the freedom to decide how it should be taught. The problem is that the subject has acquired such a poor reputation over recent years that Head Teachers and parents may now be reluctant to see it as a priority for ambitious young people.

Stlll, have a look at the work done at Lampton School and others across the country for some clues on how to make ICT both fun and useful.