Computers have a Split Personality

Computers in schools lead a double life:-

  • You must learn how to use them

        to communicate, handle data, model things and to measure and control devices

  • They also help you learn every subject

        for example, writing, researching, geography, science, etc.

Putting this into educational terminology, you have:

  • ICT (now called Computing) 

        a school subject: -a set of skills to acquire and master

  • Computers across the curriculum

        using new technologies to support and enhance all other subjects

Special Educational Needs
There's one other aspect to computers in schools. In the case of children with special needs it can actually give access to the curriculum, something that was, for many children, previously impossible.

Imagine Professor Stephen Hawking. Had he been born ten or twenty years earlier, he would have been imprisoned in his body. With new computer technology to support him, he is a university professor and world-renowned scientist and author who has changed our thinking and will be remembered as long as Isaac Newton.

ICT becomes Computing
The dual role played by computers wasn’t clear at first but it became obvious as the technology improved. 

For example, in the early days a class of children might go into a computer lesson to learn how to use a database. Their data might be a small set of fictitious data about houses. Later, they would go into to a humanities lesson and learn about houses in the local area. Clearly, mastering the database could have been taught as part of the humanities course using real, local and relevant data.

These days this is fairly self evident and a class of children who are not accessing global datasets to use in their studies might be seen as disadvantaged, but in those early days there were IT lessons and there were curriculum lessons and seldom did they intersect.

As you might imagine, this dual role did lead to problems - who should teach IT Capability, for example, and if it was scattered across the other curriculum subjects, how would you ensure that everything was covered?

These problems were gradually overcome as more and more computers went into schools, often in dedicated computer rooms, but another problem arose. With IT Capability being taught by every teacher in the school it gradually became more about mastering Microsoft’s Word and Excel in many curriculum subjects and less about mastering the skills of IT Capability.

In particular, the programming strand of IT Capability (Measurement and Control) became increasingly neglected.

Eventually, ICT as a subject had become somewhat discreditedand the government declared it to be boring. A consultation was launched and in due course it was announced that Britain's future prosperity was dependent on a generation programmers and coders coming out of school as soon as possible.

So, in September 2014, Computing replaced ICT as the subject taught in schools. Find out more in the Computing pages later in this section.

Next page: Why was it called “ICT” . . .

Previous page: Computers in Schools . . .

© Brian Smith 2015