Let IT Be? A debate on computer education (3 February 2015)

A Real Time Club dinner in collaboration with the WCIT Education & Training Committee.

Debate: Computer Education — The new school curriculum misses the mark. Again.

Join the great debate of 2015 – After all the intense battling to bring real computer science back into the classroom, is the newly launched Computing Curriculum still not fit for purpose? Have we missed THE golden opportunity or are we now on the road to creating a generation of world beating computer experts?

With a future set to be increasingly defined by technological advancement are we going about educating our children in the right way? Are we giving them the right tools to ensure the UK can compete with the likes of China and India in the 21st Century?

We must continue to discuss and influence the direction of computing education in our schools because it will inevitably impact us all.

An introduction to the argument FOR the motion:

Computing creates the most complex, versatile and innovative designed artefacts in the known universe. It’s made the world a very small place, a probe land on a comet, a car that drives itself, and everyone’s personal assistant. And yet, stick your head into a school’s computing classroom and you’ll see a backwater of inspiration. We are failing to inspire the next generation because what we teach as computing doesn’t combine its mathematical past with its engineering future. The tools that bring computing into tomorrow’s real-world – architectures, sophisticated development processes, object orientation, for instance – at best languish at the end of the curriculum, crushed into too little intellectual space.

Computing in schools should fill our children’s heads with dreams of world-changing computing solutions; I argue that the current curriculum needs a rethink and reworking to make it fit for the 21st century.

Proposer: Dr Jon Hall, Open University

Dr Jon Hall is a Senior Lecturer in Computing and Communications at the Open University. His research portfolio includes some very well-known organisations including Siemens, The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, General Dynamics UK, and BAE Systems. Until recently, he was a governor of his son’s school, and still works closely with the Computing Department there developing teaching materials to complement the AS and A-level curriculum. He chairs the BCS Effective Leadership in IT group, a lively group of industry and academic IT thought leaders, is a Fellow of BCS, a Fellow of IARIA, a Chartered Information Technology Professional (with Certificate of Current Competence), a Chartered Engineer, a Chartered Scientist and a Freeman of the WCIT.

An introduction to the argument AGAINST the motion:

Computing is the underlying discipline that has allowed the modern world to create all of the wonderful technology that we now depend on for every facet of our lives – from smartphones to Google; autonomous vehicles to Facebook. We need to ensure that we properly inspire the next generation of creative thinkers to push the boundaries further. You don’t do that by teaching them to use the latest spanner in the toolbox – especially since that spanner will be replaced by something different by the time they’d get to use it in anger – but rather by ensuring that they are properly exposed to the fundamental concepts that help shape, inform and liberate their minds. We don’t teach great writers to use word processors; we teach them the fundamentals of language, followed by comprehension and critique. The current computing curriculum has been designed to enable thinkers to go beyond the boundaries of current practice and to truly understand the fundamentals of the 4th R (Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic and pRogramming). Computational thinkers add value to the world and that is what the computing curriculum is intended to produce.

I argue that the new computing curriculum is entirely fit for purpose and we should leave well alone.

Opposer: Prof. Kevin Jones, Plymouth University

Prof Kevin Jones is Professor of Computing Science and Executive Dean of Science and Environment at Plymouth University. He is actively involved in research and education in the areas of Computer Security and Systems Development. Previously, he was Head of Computer Science at City University London. He’s spent his career in both academia and industry, including more than 20 years in research labs, large companies and SMEs, in Silicon Valley, giving him a novel view of both sides of the world and the industry/academia divide. Educated at Reading, Oxford and Manchester, he holds a PhD in Computing Science. He is a Fellow of the IET, a Fellow of the BCS, a Chartered Engineer, a Chartered Scientist, a Chartered IT Professional and a Freeman of the WCIT.