Teachers struggling to teach coding to primary students
The National Curriculum underwent a major change in the September of 2014, with ICT (Information Communication Technology) becoming GCSE Computer Science. ICT itself was a rather broad subject, covering everything from internet use, mobile phones and cell networks, along with basic computing skills.
The new subject of Computer Science was created with the intention of providing a more rigorous category, which would provide students with IT skills that would be of benefit in the workplace. There are very few jobs now that don`t require some computer familiarity, even if it only means checking for the occasional email. The introduction of Computer Science as a core subject was to ensure no student would leave school without the rudimentary IT skills needed in the working environment.
As students progress through the curriculum they won`t be mandated to continue learning IT - at present English and Maths are the only compulsory GCSE subjects - but It was hoped GCSE Computer Science would be hugely popular. In our current technology obsessed age, with children taking to tablets and smartphones as if they were the most natural thing in the world, it was thought an abundance of teenagers would be filled with enthusiasm for this trendy new subject.
This has unfortunately proven not to be the case, as figures from the Office of Qualifications and Examinations have shown relatively few students are choosing GCSE computer science. The British Computer Society has issued dire predictions, warning that the number of students who choose a computing qualification could halve by 2020. IT is obviously of vital importance to the UK economy - and the premonition that the UK will not have enough computing specialists does not augur well.
Coding has been part of the national curriculum since 2014, with children as young as five being taught the programming language. Keen to get a head start, England leads the way amongst G20 countries in teaching children the logic of computer algorithms. These are skills that will be needed even more in the future, since predictions show unless our first year students start learning these skills, the country will face a major deficit of digitally skilled workers.
The change from ICT to Computer science has not however been an entirely smooth one. Being one of the biggest changes to the National Curriculum in its 25 year history, a few teething problems are to be expected of course - but there are indications of more serious transitional issues.
Some teachers have complained that they haven`t received the necessary training - that they certainly felt competent enough to teach ICT, but are out of their depth when it comes to coding. In many ways this is hardly surprising - a 35 year old teacher will have grown up in an era when computers were not the ubiquitous amenity they are now. The average smart phone probably possesses more power than a super computer from the 1980`s, and today`s children are swiping touch screens and engaging with operating systems almost from infancy.
`I can`t teach coding the kids are better at it than I am,` is a common lament from primary school teachers at the moment. Of course they will be computer literate - but coding is a whole other category of skills, and many teachers are saying that they simply don`t possess the expertise to teach it.
The IT consulting form BJSS, working with YouGov, conducted a survey in the state and independent sector. They polled 500 teachers who worked with pupils aged between 8 and 15, and found that 67% considered themselves lacking the requisite skills to effectively teach coding. 39% of the teachers said that they didn`t have access to relevant software and appropriate IT to teach the subject.
Glynn Robinson, the Managing Director of BJSS, has stressed the importance of coding being taught effectively and competently to children from their inception into the national curriculum:
`To safeguard the UK`s digital competitiveness, it is crucial that primary and secondary school teachers are properly equipped and resourced to teach the digital and coding skills that will be required by the time today`s schoolchildren enter the workforce.`
Coding needs to be taught in a way that taps into children`s natural creativity. It shouldn`t be presented a dry and overly academic language - rather as a dynamic and exciting system, that deals with all the eventualities linking one event to another. If children can be taught how to express themselves through coding, how to use it as an art form, we may well initiate a renaissance in this field, at the very time when it is most needed.