IT Capability

The study of computers, newly introduced with the advent of the National Curriculum, was called “Information Technology Capability” (IT Capability for short). It was a recognition that the new technologies were not so much about the machines themselves but about information and what they could do with it.

Despite this, most people thought that the new subject would require children to learn how to switch computers on and how to load and run programs. They might possibly also do some word processing. I say possibly because, in 1989, primary schools (5 to 11 years) were lucky to have more than a couple of computers and may or may not have owned a (dot matrix) printer. Secondary schools (11 to 18 years) mostly confined their computers to Maths or Science departments.

In the event, the new subject was a brilliant piece of work. It covered the four major things that computers did - and still do: communication, manipulation of data, computer modelling, and finally computer control including input from sensors.

If you think about it, everything we do today, still falls into these categories.

In 1989, when the idea of a touchscreen tablet, a virtual world or a self-driving car were impossible to imagine, the creators of the new curriculum covered all the bases in a way that is still relevant today.

  • It didn’t say “Learn how to use a word-processor”, 
    it said “Learn to Communicate”.
  • It didn’t say “Learn how to use a database”, 
    it said “Learn how to handle data”.
  • It didn’t say “Learn how to use a spreadsheet”, 
    it said “Learn computer modelling”.
  • It didn’t say “Learn a computer language”, 
    it said “Learn how to use computers to control and monitor devices”.

These four areas became known as “Strands” and included a fifth: “Compare your own use of computers in school with those you see in the outside world”. This rooted children’s experience in the real world.

No mouse or windows
Think about this. At the time most computers did not have a mouse with its on-screen pointer and icons. Choices were made from menus using the up and down arrow keys. Microsoft’s Windows 95 was still six years away and although Acorn and RM had recently introduced machines with a mouse and windows, most computers still started up at the command line interface and it was very difficult, if not impossible, to even add a picture to your writing. Digital cameras were yet to arrive and the World Wide Web had not even been invented.

Versatile and Future-proof
Taking just the first strand, the wording said “Learn to Communicate”. It was an amazing piece of foresight. It’s still as relevant today as the day it was written. It doesn’t matter whether you are writing a blog, posting on Facebook, creating your own YouTube channel, or Skyping with a class of children in another country, you are using computers to communicate.

Given that none of these things had been invented - nor could they have been foreseen by the writers of the National Curriculum - it is amazing that their wording never went out of date. “Learn to communicate” covers communication in all its forms - words, pictures, sounds, on paper or electronically, locally or globally. In ways we could never have imagined, we now use computers to communicate - to entertain, to persuade, to share.

How “Communicating Information” has changed:

  • Better computers and software allowed you to add pictures to your writing and made Desktop Publishing (DTP) possible. Children made posters, leaflets and newsletters by the million.
  • Music and graphics programs appeared. Children began to create, share and modify information in forms other than words.
  • Faster processors made it possible to add sound to your words and pictures and multimedia became the Big Thing.
  • Email arrived and children began to communicate internationally without a printer.
  • The World Wide Web allowed access to millions of pages of information.
  • Full-motion, full-screen video arrived and children were able to create movies.
  • Web 2.0 emerged and children became active contributors to both the web and the global exchange of ideas.

All of these developments fit within the description of Strand 1: Communicating Information.

IT in the National Curriculum was a brilliant piece of work. Each of the four practical strands was generic in its nature and so, as the technology evolved and new opportunities emerged, the wording remained relevant.

There have been several revisions of the National Curriculum in the years since 1989. The letter C was added to IT and the strands were renamed but the actual content remained unaltered. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century,ICT stood alongside Maths, English and Science as core subjects, and were often referred to as “The 4Rs” as a nod to the Victorian curriculum of 1870.

However, eventually the changing world demanded a different emphasis and in September 2014 the ICT curriculum was replaced by “Computing”. 

Next: Why was it Changed to ICT?

© Brian Smith 2015