Teaching ICT

After all of the fuss surrounding Michael Gove’s speech yesterday [Published in the Guardian] I wondered what it is he was trying to say.

First of all let me say that I haven’t read the speech in any great depth, I only skimmed through it; the man and his policies makes me cringe, so I find it hard to read beyond the dogma and understand the core issue. I have however, seen and read comments by my peers – who I know and trust.

And, they seem to be mixed.

The banner headlines would appear to be something along the lines of “Briton should get rid of ICT teaching because it is boring”, and “Briton should teach programming languages because they are far more interesting“. If it wasn’t Gove that was saying this, I’d probably agree – to a point.

ICT teaching in this country has been boring for a long time, it’s surprising that it has taken so long for HMG to realise that. Even when I was teaching in college (remember, I taught Catering – but I also taught IT to caterers), ICT teachers were simply passing out Fofo tasks and assignments that held the interest of no one. Back then, I tried to make the work more interesting by getting learners to make Wordsearches (creating tables, formatting cells), posters (importing images, formatting etc.) and job applications (real life skill) before we had to deal with the more mundane, qualification dictated, boring stuff.

So getting rid of all that is a must. Nevertheless, word processing is a life skill, so it shouldn’t be ditched just because it’s taught in a boring way. Word processing skills include the use of spell-checks and the understanding of a modicum of grammar – both of which are required for communication throughout life as well as in all types of social media. Spreadsheets and Presentation software are also used in all kinds of industry and on every University (H.E.) course. Neither Industry nor H.E. will be very happy if they suddenly have to start teaching basic ICT to recruits, especially because it has been thought to be ‘boring’!

As for the programming side of Gove’s argument – I can go with that, but only to a certain extent. He’s obviously been impressed by something he’s seen at MIT, but for goodness’ sake stuff like this has been around for years and years. Seymour Papert was playing around with Lego years ago and there is still a body of teachers that can easily subscribe to his methods. And (just to wrap up this part of the argument) what good is programming to a kid who wants to be an accountant, a plumber, or God forbid, a chef?  Get real Gove.

What is really required and what has been required for at least ten years is a commitment to teach teachers (all teachers, all sectors, in-service and pre-service) how ICT (or IT, or ILT – whatever you want to call it) can be taught in exciting, encouraging, effective and efficient ways. ‘e’ learning?

Initial Teacher Training should, instead of simply requiring trainee teachers to use PowerPoint, include the effective use of modern and emerging technologies for both teaching and learning. Using mobile devices, using social media, using games etc.

Information, Communication and Technology for use in a 21st Century world.

There are enough examples out there Gove – just look.

Academic learning

There seems to be an awful lot of talk about academic learning these days. What does it mean? and for whom is academic learning important?

Michael Gove spoke yesterday and suggested that many young people are being denied the opportunity to excel in academic skills and that the curriculum should therefore change to put that right. Furthermore, he was lambasted by a caller on Radio 5, about his rigid view of educational reform.

This government, with Gove as Education Secretary, seem to value academic excellence above all else.

But what does academic mean? I get the sense that it means being in the top ten of any world-wide comparison of educational league tables. But that doesn’t address the needs of our country today or, by extension the needs of our learners.

What kind of degree does the butcher, the baker, the plumber, the HGV driver, the electrician, the shopkeeper, the gardener, the taxi driver, the hairdresser (etc.) need? What kind of academic excellence does the guy you call out on Christmas Eve to mend the frozen pipes need to respond to your call? In the main – none at all. Don’t misunderstand me, many of these tradesmen and women will undertake academic courses to better perform their business, but in the main, the courses they will seek out – but not easily find these days – are those that advance their skills; their vocational skills!

Why are vocational skills so undervalued? I know that I’d rather have someone come to fix my pipes who knows how to effect the repair and make it (and me) safe than someone who comes along and tells me where the copper is mined, at what temperature it melts, how the pipe is extruded and why solder is better than rubber at sealing pipes. We need to value vocational excellence as much as academic skills – neither should be paramount.

My wife teaches foundation degree to early years workers. In the main these students are adults managing early years settings. They are NOT stupid. However, the academic rigour imposed by the authenticating university leads them to believe that they are. The foundation degree is the only qualification available to them that offers progression: But progression towards what? If they were to undertake a course that developed their skills in the management and safety of their setting they would be delighted and would devour the course – but given the need to ‘write in an academic way’, something they have never done before is demoralising.

We shouldn’t forget that many learners choose a vocational route because that is what interests them and it is what they become good at. Many others choose such a route because academia is simply beyond them. Educational institutions, despite laws made to change this, simply cannot cope with dyslexics, or similarly capable adults who cannot ‘do’ academic.