back to article Royal Society opens inquiry into why kids hate tech

The Royal Society has opened its investigation into why kids are so bored with technology and computing classes in British schools - even if they're obsessed with their mobiles and iPods and applications like Facebook. Earlier this month the Society announced an 18-month probe into Computing in Schools with the support of 24 …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    too much information - a hackers dream?

    Almost as bad as seeing php

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    1. Cameron Colley

      Oh, Oh, may I join in?

      Apache/2.2.9 (Debian) mod_apreq2-20051231/2.6.0 mod_perl/2.0.4 Perl/v5.10.0

  2. Dazed and Confused

    Make it fun

    If you want kids to learn, make it fun. Get their enthusiasm. If you can get them enthused you'll find there is very little they can't learn to do.

    Teaching them how to change font in Word isn't "computing", even it is might prove to be a necessary skill.

    I suspect that one major problem is that half the kids will rapidly get to know more than more of the teachers.

    In terms of primary schools, they appear to have given up teaching maths and just concentrate on basic arithmetic so what chance do they have of teaching programming.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      School IT = using Office

      I've done various outreach projects with schools and everything is wrong about the teaching they're getting through the National Curriculum. Programming is rarely taught (after all, almost no machines come with a beginners' programming language like the old BBC B), instead kids are taught that IT means being able to find something using Google, copy and paste it into Word and export the whole Comic Sans horror as HTML or a Powerpoint presentation.

      Instead, if you follow Seymour Papert and Alan Kay's lead and get kids PLAYING with technology they quickly find a use for programming, engineering, math - you name it. You don't even need to stand there teaching - they'll go off and find out what they need, hack code together, bodge something that works - and have fun.

      The two best technologies out there at the moment are Scratch ( and LEGO Mindstorms. More advanced children might then want to go on to Alice.

      And if you haven't played with any of those - the good news is that Scratch, Mindstorms and Alice are also good for adult learners and experienced programmers alike.

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Thomas Gray
    Thumb Down

    Fun? It's work

    Make it fun? Sorry, but at some point, the little bleeders have to buckle down and WORK at it. Ask any games programmer - sure, the environment is good, the end product is fun, but the actual making of the thing is hard work, tedious and frustrating.

    The problem with the "make it fun" argument is that most people don't find problem solving "fun". They'd rather have the solution on a plate (or read a cheat guide) in order to get the end result.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Kids love iPods, PS3's etc. etc because they are fun and easy to use.

      Two things which stand out as part and parcel of the programming profession especially is that management manage to take the fun away, and if you want to make a great, easy to use product that doesn't break and does 99% of everything for you, it's a right royal pain in the arse.

      Kids like easy and simple. Programming just isn't.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Fun is the hook

        If people can have fun at the beginning they are more likely to stick with it later on when things get harder. If they know a small amount of knowledge can result in something brilliant, they're intrigued by the possibilities when they have a lot more knowledge.

        Compare that to teaching programming of old - hours in front of a text editor to write, compile and debug a program that does bugger/all. Kids today have games consoles and mobile phones; they expect rich media, internet connectivity from the very start. There is no way you can persuade anyone other than a tiny minority that starting off with hello_world.c and progressing to hello_name.c is worth it. They want something that is going to engage them from the very start.

        1. Charles Manning

          Fun doesn't hook

          In the modern ADD generation fun is not a hook. As soon as the fun stops there's a whole pile of other "oooh shiny" distractions. Engaging them at the start is not enough.

          The fun approach might have worked in the old days with less distractions.

          I got into programming because I found it fun and interesting to control a computer and it was quite amazing to load a bunch of cards with a Fortran program to calculate pi and see 3.14... come out.

          Programming is not a basic literacy either. You don't need programming to survive in the modern world or use tech any more than you need to study thermodynamics to drive a car.

          Sure we need more scientists and engineers, but just making it fun is not the answer.

          Those that enter university or the workplace looking to science and engineering for fun will soon quit. Science is amazingly boring most of the time and engineering requires hard grind. You can't just pack it in when the fun stops.

          If you want a career in physics, chemistry etc then you need to get at least an MSc to be employable. That's going to take a year or three doing some serious research which is far from fun. It is interesting to some. A friend of mine doing marine biology spent 3 months breaking open clams, measuring and weighing the gonads, gathering the numbers then 6 months baking the numbers and writing it up. When she graduated it was more of the same...

          Quite a few science students quit after the first year because they realise that they're signing up for a lifetime in a lab coat cutting up rats. Their mates in banking are running up business expenses, screwing secretaries and living a high life.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Wow, thats a fantastic iPhone, you must be great!

            "Quite a few science students quit after the first year because they realise that they're signing up for a lifetime in a lab coat cutting up rats. Their mates in banking are running up business expenses, screwing secretaries and living a high life."

            Parents have dragged their kids up to have no value in themselves or others, but to place that value into material possessions. Were all told that having the best car, phone, house, clothes, etc., is what makes you. They grow up to be the (w)bankers.

            While those kids that were brought up normally (and those are very few are far between 'nower days) ARE interested in their subjects. I think because they believe that life isn't all "running up business expenses, screwing secretaries and living a high life" but see the value in bettering themselves and are keen to learn.

            I see the whole problem as a "society issue", perpetuated by the weak of mind.

    2. bothwell

      The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

      It's worse than that - computing itself isn't the same as it used to be. Back in the day anybody could knock out a few lines of code and have a program that was as good as any pick of commercial software right in front of you. You can't really do that these days, and 'computing' is now such a hilariously broad subject that if you ask 3 people in IT what kids should be learning in 'computing classes' you'll get about 20 different answers.

      I expect the main reason that kids find computing boring is because it's in school, and school is generally boring. We can have these surveys every year and they'll all end up with exactly the same findings.

    3. John Bailey


      So..If one is to learn to cook, one must first thoroughly understand the history of cooking, the chemical reactions involved and the fundamentals such as the physics behind boiling water? And naturally, the objective is not to get the little cherub capable of feeding themselves, but to turn out the next Heston Blumenthal.

      Sorry.. No thanks. I'll put an egg into a pan of water and learn as I go along.

      Absolutely agree. Computer programming is a hard frustrating difficult job. But this is not a job centre course. The objective is to turn out kids who have enough knowledge to understand what is out there and find the course that will actually lead to a job. Right now, this is not happening.

      An office skills course will not be of much use to a graphic designer. And there is not a career path from word processing to programming. But you can't really figure that out without knowing what is available and how each thing interacts with the rest.

      Who knows.. It might even make your job a bit easier if you don't have to cater for pig ignorant people who insist on doing things the way they always have no matter how different the new system is.

      Teach basic computer literacy. Do you know how many people still can't use a directory structure sensibly? Let alone understand the difference between curt and copy.

      Teach the anatomy of a computer. If even 10% stop thinking that the bit that everything plugs into is a CPU, that will be worth it in it's self.

      Teach basic maintenance.

      Teach the absolute basics of how a program works.

      Teach basic image manipulation.

      None of it has to be to a level that would be useful getting a job. In fact, the getting of a job is not the target. It should have as it's aim, to create computer literate people who can go on to specialise in their chosen path.

      We don't expect every English class to turn out a class full of authors with every graduation, but literate people can use the ability to read to further their ambitions beyond manual labour.

      Nor do we expect every person who gets a pass in maths to be a mathematician. We do expect them to be at least basically numerate.

      Forget the vocational level stuff. Teach them how to use a versatile tool instead of how to use a few programs from one company.

  5. Sooty

    simple answer

    Computing should be taught as computing, not general office skills.

    Kids will learn general computer use outside of school, but general computer use shouldn't get you any qualifications! The classes should go into background detail. Basically, the courses are a bit rubbish as they are, if you studied physics, you wouldn't expect to just be taught how to use a microwave, or program a VCR, you'd expect to go into how a microwave actually heats food, and how a VCR records images onto a tape.

    Do kids need to know how to program? not generally, a bit of the theory doesn't hurt, but it should be an essential part of any course that professes to teach computing. How to program, in a real language, ideally how to actually develop an application rather than just program one too!

    1. Martin Gregorie

      ..and precisely the right oMartin Gregoriene

      "Computing should be taught as computing, not general office skills. ... Kids will learn general computer use outside of school, but general computer use shouldn't get you any qualifications!"

      I couldn't agree more. When I were a lad I was expected to submit a typed thesis - but nobody taught typing as a school or uni subject. You either taught yourself or got somebody to do it for you. I really learnt to type when faced with a Flexowriter (paper tape editing) and KSR-33 (interactive computing pre green screen).

      "Do kids need to know how to program? not generally, a bit of the theory doesn't hurt, but it should be an essential part of any course that professes to teach computing. How to program, in a real language, ideally how to actually develop an application rather than just program one too!"

      Agreement again. Its a good way of teaching logical thinking and problem solving and, as mentioned elsewhere, a good feature is that assessment isn't subjective. "Computer says NO" if you screwed up: some kids need to learn that 'wrong answer' means wrong answer and not 'lets talk about it and pretend you got it right'.

      I recently learnt Python and think this has to be a leading candidate as a teaching language for schools. The software is free, the language is small, easy to learn, has good error reporting, is easily extensible (so they learn about module libraries) and produces instant results at first but can equally be used to solve large real-world problems.

  6. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Kids hate tech for the same reasons everyone else does

    Sometimes that's because it's irrelevant (who cares how a PC works, so long as it *does* work?)

    Sometimes because it's too "geeky" (why should I have to learn all these commands, why doesn't it just do what I want?)

    Sometimes because it makes us look stupid (when it's poorly documented or badly designed)

    Sometimes because it's too much work for too little reward (see above)

    Sometimes because it doesn't do what we want it to (see above, again)

    Sometimes because the manual is too long to read through (see above - hmm, there seems to be a pattern emerging here)

    Sometimes because just as soon as we learn how to do something, it all changes in the next release

    and sometimes because the people who teach it have turned a previously interesting subject, full of potential new discoveries and into a tedious, unfocused or confusing course due to their own disinterest, lack of teaching ability and obvious disdain for anything remotely technical.

  7. lglethal Silver badge

    Im sorry but how long???

    It takes 18 months to perform this sort of research???

    Funny but I didnt realise that the Royal Society was a government funded quango!!! I cant imagine any othe reason why it would take so long...

  8. Rogerborg

    Paging the BCS, BCS to the drama

    Sorry, the "Chartered Institute for IT". Surely you can engage a consultant to headhunt a change master to run a steering committee to oversee the process for drawing up a plan to create a taskforce to produce the requirements for outsourcing a market research firm to produce a mission statement for your own competing investigation?

    1. sandman

      re: Paging the BCS

      Only if the whole project is planned in Prince 2.

  9. Peter Galbavy

    if you can't ...


    Perhaps real skills are so valued that anyone who has any real talent and aptitude ends up in the industry being paid a reasonable amount. Instead of teaching - being paid crap and dealing with ungrateful teens who you cannot censure even verbally ?

  10. G R Goslin

    It's because it's too hard

    Forget the geekiness. The reason why most children don't like the subject is that it's 'hard'. Along with the other 'hard' subjects, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and most of the other science subjects, it's hard to gain experience and the results are not the subject of opinion, so you cannot put in some rubbish as your work and claim that it's significant. If you write a program, it either works or it doesn't, and it's faults are only too apparent.

    1. Ian Oliver


      > Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology

      That's the A-level choices my daughter made today, but she also tacked geography onto the end of the list.


  11. VampyreWolf

    The biggest issue is experience and comprehension

    On one side, you have a generation going through the system, which has the world at it's fingertips in an instant. Where Google, Twitter, and Facebook are household terms, seeing more usage then oven, stove, or grill (also the fast food generation). Math is no longer done mentally or even long form on paper, but done via a calculator. Reports and essays now allow txtspk in them (and yet they can't read L337).

    And on the other side you have this recent trend towards "no child left behind", which is going to result in little more than McD's getting more employees who have no glimmer of hope of getting any further than refilling the fry machine. The bell curve has shifted horribly towards the lower grades, further adding to the chasm between the top students and the majority. Though this opens up spots in higher education, we then see reports of schools and dropping enrollment stats as the majority now has no hope of even filling out the enrollment paperwork correctly, never mind passing the first term.

    So we have a generation who is connected to the world constantly that either has no comprehension of how to use the information to the utmost, or they have long since surpassed those teaching them how to use it. Both groups would show a lack of interest in any classroom, though the current system caters to the former rather than strive to enrich the educations of the latter.

    1. Elmer Phud

      IT = old hat?

      They use the tech all the time - it's no big deal to them.

      It's similar to other stuff that thier teachers take for granted and see no need to have it all explained to them., like phones and cars and loyalty cards.

      If anything the kids are far better at using the tech as they have no fear - teachers come from the time of reboots every time something changed on the computer, constant needs to re-install Windows and fearful of just unplugging the mains when the bloody machine refuses to play ball.

      It is thier main tool these days, we never learned to make tools but to use them. Playing with IT is more important than trying to understand a rapidly changing field - does everybody need to understand about all the layers of protocols needed to send "LOL! "?

      Can't read L337 -- blimey, isn't that one of the old languges like Latin? Maybe they'll teach it in Grammar Schools ;-)

  12. Naughtyhorse




    I thought 10%/90% website and marketing tool.

    but what do i know, they didnt teach computing when I was at school... no computers

  13. Graham Bartlett


    No-one likes climbing the hill, but everyone likes the view from the top. And once you've seen the view once, you're likely to put up with the climb again for another view. The problem is how to get them to make the climb in the first place.

    And whilst everyone's busy saying how hard it is to get started, and how all the good programs are done, I have one word to say.


    On mobiles, we have an environment with limited resources, limited infrastructure, and *HUGE* scope for writing stuff that can stand up reasonably well compared to other things. Mobile phone apps now are startlingly similar to late-80s and early-90s games. Get them to write a tic-tac-toe app on their iPhone, and you'll need a crowbar to get them out of the lab (ideally not in the Gordon Freeman way). By A-level, expect them to be writing isometric scrolling shooters.

    1. Pablo


      I don't agree with the view that one person can no longer make an interesting/useful program in a reasonable amount of time. Mobile apps are just one example that disproves that. Even on a standard PC platform, it's still possible to write a genuinely helpful utility of your own. Because of course, you know exactly what YOU need. And with luck, someone else might need it too.

      Being American, I obviously have no experience with introductory programing classes in British schools, but I have a sneaking suspicion they're still using Quick Basic, Pascal or something equally inappropriate for creating modern software. If true, that's the exact opposite of what they should be doing. Students should be introduced to something easy and rewarding first and learn the nitty-gritty details later on.

  14. Cranky Yank


    The Royal Society has opened its investigation into why kids are so bored with plumbing - even if they're obsessed with using indoor toilets. Earlier this month the Society announced an 18-month probe into Plumbing Science in Schools with the support of 24 …

    Do not confuse rapt consumerism with a desire or interest in creating rapt goods.

    Only geeky outliers will ever be interested in developing technology -- because they have no other ways to socialize or express themselves.

  15. spiny norman

    Wrong question

    Possibly the Royal Society should find out what school is for first, then they might have a chance of working out what should be taught there. The idea used to be that you learned things like physics, chemistry and maths and then went on to apply this basic understanding to whatever you wanted to do in life. Problem is, employers really don't want to train people any more and would like nothing better than GCSEs in Call Centre Sales and Dish Washer Maintenance.

  16. Fizzl

    Is there a GCSE in using a Pen?

    The likes of RSA Typing and ECDL need to be taught in the class room as early as possible but not as 'IT' these should be taught in English.

    I seem to recall doing a GCSE in English that was all about writing skills (Which I failed) and GCSE in English literature (Which I did much better in).

    A GCSE in English needs to reflect the modern times, no one ever hand writes documents these days so just as English lessons used to test your ability to hand write they should now be testing your ability to produce the same documents on a computer. This should continue to be a core subject ever child needs to learn. English will still cover the reading, speaking, listening etc. that is does now.

    A GCSE in 'IT' should be a specialist subject available as an option it will briefly touch on areas such as:

    Basic Programming concepts using C

    PC Components and tech support

    Networking Technologies

    Information Security

    The idea is not to teach them anything particularly useful but it should be enough inspire those few who are capable of taking it further (Just like all GCSE's). Not everyone will want to do it and in the end most people are crap at very technical stuff, this will never change.

    I do feel it is important to teach if only as an awareness thing, it wasn't until a few years ago I discovered Information Security was a real topic you could just ask to study. I do wonder how the last 10 years would gone had I known then what I know now. (No one thought to tell the kid who spent lunch times hacking the school computers you are allowed to do that sort of thing for a living.)

    Proper IT needs a damn good teacher to do it, the sort of personalities that do very well in IT can detect a fraud a mile away and it's very hard to teach if your class has no respect for you. I dropped out of A-Level computing because the teacher was an idiot in my eyes and this put me off the subject. After 5 years of wilderness I got back into Education and did BSc Computer Science & IT then an MSc in Information Security and had a lot of fun doing it.

  17. Tom 54

    Why study computers anyway?

    Unless you have a dream of moving to India... and that would go well with having bad grammar.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      programming and developing are 2 different things.

      If you want somebody to translate highly detailed specs and designs into badly commented, strangely structured, generally weird code, that passes all "happy path" tests with no concern for alternative paths, then India is great...

      If you want decent, maintainable, well structured code, that works in all scenarios, then it's not quite as suitable!

      An example I came across today... A defect reported in an offshore developed application, a Boolean value was not what it should be, in fact it contained a garbage value, despite being initialised and not altered since.

      The "solution" they came up with, which i use in the loosest sense of the word, was to reset the value to what it should be at the point the error occurred, and submitted it for retest. After looking at it myself, i immediately saw the problem, a string that was initialised, and then had other strings concatenated to it inside a, potentially, infinite loop. It was a massive buffer overflow that could have extended indefinitely with the infinite loop.

      Now i could accept someone overlooking the root cause, as i'm quite good at picking up obscure errors that other people miss, but this wasn't even a vague attempt at investigating the core problem, it smacked of someone who didn't really understand what they were doing, flailing about to see what stopped the big error happening.

      Despite what people think, it's going to be a long time before Indian developers take over the world, they will need a massive cultural shift first, and as soon as the UK developers stop carrying the teams they work with, they are going to fall flat on their faces!

  18. TkH11


    According to OCR Exam boards ICT National Level 2 GCSE, there are no exams, it's coursework based and one thing students have to demonstrate in order to pass is

    "Candidates will set up at least two directories.

    They will save some files in appropriate locations using appropriate filenames."

    "Candidates will use search engines to find information on the Internet, although they may not use the most efficient criteria.

    They will provide their source(s) website addresses.

    They will send, receive, reply and forward email, including at least one message with a document attached."

    FFS, this is a GCSE in Computing!!!!

    No wonder, according to the Telegraph newspaper there's been a 669% increase in the number of students taking the course!

    Learning how to send Email or run a search on Google should not be the focus of a formal GCSE in ICT !!!

    You could pass the course without even attending a single lesson..heck, you don't even need to turn up for the exam, because there isn't one!

    1. irrelevant


      I used to be an assistant cub scout leader some years back. I used to take in a pile of computers or laptops once a year and do their computer badge with them - this would often be using a digital camera, paint and publisher to do a newsletter, but one year I hooked up a LAN and set up a local mailserver and they had a fantastic time emailing backwards and forwards between themselves. These were mostly 8yo kids ... !!

      My now 3yo is more competent with computers, using mum's old laptop, than some grown-ups i know, and can sit on the cbeebies website playing the games for hours on end if we let her... God knows what sort of IT knowledge school will be able to teach her, when she eventually gets that far...

  19. Diane Miller

    Is programming a fundamental literacy?

    >>Is programming still a fundamental literacy for the modern age?

    As a teacher and programmer - no, and it never was. I don't need to be able to build a TV set to watch Doctor Who.

    That having been said, someone else pointed out that a little knowledge would be a useful thing, and that I agree with wholeheartedly. It's amazing how many students run through my math classes with no idea how any of this works. Somehow, computers just "know" what to do.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Path of least resistance

    According to a graph here Computing is one of the hardest A'levels to get an A in (Maths being easier). And what do A-level points mean? Entry in a competitive world.

    And most University Computing departments would rather see good passes in Maths and Sciences than the Computing A'level.

    So why do Computing A'level?

  21. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge


    >Is programming still a fundamental literacy for the modern age?

    Nope, never was. Kids today learning to make mouse over JScript is no more use than us learning BBC basic 25 years ago.

    >What is the purpose of ICT or computing classes in school?

    God knows

    >Are existing qualifications fit for purpose?

    No, but they never were.

    >Should computing even be taught in the school environment

    Typing would be useful. When I was at school they got rid of typing (girls only) and made the room into computer classroom.

    >Why do students study computing?

    Think it gets them a job.

    >Do computing qualifications carry as much weight with universities as, say, maths >qualifications?

    I sincerely hope not

    I'm awaiting the Royal Society of Chemistry report into why kids don't want to study chemistry but are very interested in 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    KIDS are not stupid, they are not doing computing because its hard and no longer gives the money rewards that it used to, also their parents will have warned them about outsourcing/offshoring.

    If you want to get them interested, teach them system administration or how Quants make millions in the city.

  23. Lou Gosselin

    Perhaps the kids are smarter than given credit for

    Computer science skills such as programming aren't valued like they used to be. Computer programming has absolutely lost it's prestige. Entry job requirements are insanely high compared to a decade ago. There's no guaranty of jobs, very high visibility corporations keep offshoring so many jobs.

    There's only so long this can go on before kids wisen up and see that it's more profitable to manage the STEM types than to become them.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Ban games, social networking and chatrooms for under 16 year olds. They will soon start exploring graphics packages, fiddling with code, html, php etc. Simples.

    My Amstrad 1640 did not play any games, other than perhaps worms, no not the fun worms, worms worms. As such I learned how to use dos properly, set up networks, customise bulletin board systems, started learning basic C and C++. If I had facebook to waste my time on no doubt would have done none of the above.

  25. stucs201


    They need more of this :

    (Alien: what happened to kids wanting to play space invaders? Sod this facebook malarky)

  26. Leo Maxwell

    This is NOT a dig at Microsoft

    Honestly teaching kids how to use Windows and Office is a waste of time.

    You end up with lots of people who can use a PC to type a letter, but end up reinstalling the OS if something goes wrong, instead of learning how to fix it properly.

    That's OK, if you want a lot of point and click support people.

    When I went to school, they did have computers, but a disk drive was the size of a washing machine.

    Teach them how to get into the bowels of an OS, and let them play with it, which means Linux or BSD etc, as Microsoft OSes are deliberately obscured.

    Or teach them how to put a PC together, and understand how the different parts interact (I know that my 13 year old grandson is fascinated by this)

    Or teach them how networks operate, (I know I was fascinated by it about 20 years ago)

    Only trouble is then you end up with a lot of kids who can hack your PC.

  27. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Bait & Switch

    This would take a lot of *real* preparation - and would probably also get you put on Microsfot's hit list <- that was a typo, but I like it :)

    Kids like breaking things, so given the something to break - Excel's date bug for a start. Let then see it, laugh at it then show another spreadsheet program that doesn't suffer the problem (but maybe some other), start to explain about assumptions programmers make, but not in too much detail - don't want to frighten them off. Over a period of time go though as many different bits of software you can, showing up input validation errors, missing hardware detection etc.

    Let them have a good old laugh so they feel really superior, gradually explaining in more detail what the errors are, then sneak in the simplest possible little python script (python is available for every modern platform I know of) that duplicates one of these errors. Let the kids first see, that yes, it makes the same mistake, then let them see the code. At this point the mentally lazy ones will switch off - which is fine they're not the ones we're interested in anyway - the others, without being asked will want to prove they can do better than the 'experts'.

  28. jake Silver badge

    Answers from a sometime IT educator ...

    "These include asking whether computing is a real discipline in the same way that maths, physics or chemistry are."

    No. Computing is more like plumbing or auto mechanics.

    "Other questions include:

    " Is programming still a fundamental literacy for the modern age?"

    It never was, any more than people understand the processes that allow them to fire up their car and drive off to the shops.

    " What is the purpose of ICT or computing classes in school?"

    At the grade school level? It has nothing to do with the kids, and everything to do with petty politics amongst the adults in charge.

    " Are existing qualifications fit for purpose?"

    No, for the simple reason that said "qualifications" were speced out by the unqualified.

    " Should computing even be taught in the school environment - do kids learn more outside the classroom?"

    IMO, anything more than basic keyboard skills should be outside the scope of grade schools. Yes, allow simple programming languages (I'm talking Lisp or Smalltalk, not that abomination BASIC) and/or bare-bones "how it works" electives for those interested. But this shouldn't be a requirement, any more than autoshop or woodworking.

    " Why do students study computing?"

    They don't. They study "using consumer goods, and how to get their parents to purchase them for them".

    " How much variety is there between different schools?"

    Stupid question, How much variety is there between people?

    " Do computing qualifications carry as much weight with universities as, say, maths qualifications?"

    Not at any decent accredited school that I'm aware of (I have taught IT at several of California's State and UC campuses, and at many highschools & all of the Junior Colleges in the greater Bay Area).

    " Is it a problem of perception?"

    Probably ... The folks asking the questions aren't equipped to properly perceive the reality of the situation ... figuring out "why" is most likely a better place to spend the money on an 18-month probe.

    " Is this problem unique to the UK or could we learn from other countries?"

    Its world-wide, in my estimation.

  29. Cody

    the teachers have no clue

    Listen, if you were seriously interested in English or European Literature, and you took a class in it, and you discovered that your teacher thought English Literature was about Harold Robbins, or Ken Follet, and had never heard of, let alone read, Keats or Dr Johnson, what would you do? You would stop taking courses in English Literature. You would decide that while these books that fascinated you might be very interesting, they had nothing to do with what was being taught under that name in school.

    That is what is happening. You have a generation of kids who are genuinely interested in technical matters, being taught by people who are functionally illiterate, according to a syllabus drawn up by illiterates. Its not surprising that they drop out, you would too.

    It is like being taught French by someone who cannot speak, write or read it, so they make up some garbage which has nothing to do with French, and call it a French course.

    This will not change. And the consequence will be that the coming generation of programmers will be self taught drop outs. And the teachers and education department officials, in blissful ignorance of the fact that there is such a thing as programming, will continue to compose syllabuses which consist of learning to use Google and write stuff in Powerpoint.

    And think they are literate, and teaching IT skills!

  30. Matthew 4

    I don't know about the UK but...

    In New Zealand.. we knew more than the "teachers".. so was a complete joke.

    I guess it's not supprising though - pay peanuts... get monkeys.

  31. CmdrX3


    I'll tell you why.... because most of the classes from what I've seen teach dull material. Databases, spreadsheets, word processing, basic HTML, internet searching. Full Yawn-fest. It's basically teaching kids to go into an office, not into IT. Where is the basic networking skills, PC building skills, OS awareness and SECURITY awareness. Give them some hands on stuff to do, instead of the dull diet of drivel thats force fed to them nowadays. Give them something that will be useful to them even if they choose not to pursue it further as a career, and if nothing else they will at least be able to install a stick of ram, and secure their home network.

  32. Anonymous Coward


    Jeez. Is the really the Royal Society asking these questions? I'd heard about in-breeding within royal circles but this is taking it a bit too far.

    "Is computing is a real discipline in the same way that maths, physics or chemistry are."

    Firstly remove the word 'real' from the question - in this kind of context it's one of those words that will lead you up the garden path, into the shed, slam the door, apply the padlock and sod off back to the house to have a nice cup of tea leaving you in the dark. (Yes it's a real discipline - it exists, has being and is an entirely valid field of human endeavour).

    To re-ask the question, then: "Is computing is a discipline in the same way that maths, physics or chemistry are."

    Well, in what way are maths, physics and chemistry 'the same'? Obviously they're not all exactly the same or physics would be chemistry, maths would be physics, and we'd still be sitting in little dark rooms applying flame to powder X and wondering why our eyebrows are missing most of the time. So what are the similarities? Well, physics and chemistry use maths, chemistry uses physics, and maths doesn't use either of the above. Computing uses maths - so there's a similarity to physics and chemistry. I'm sure there are lots of other similarities as well. If you're that interested get some physicists, chemists, mathematicians and computer scientists in a room together and get them to discuss the similarities between their chosen fields. I'll give it 10 minutes before there's a fist-fight.

    "Is programming still a fundamental literacy for the modern age?"

    It never was, so the fact that it isn't now is neither here nor there.

    "What is the purpose of ICT or computing classes in school?"

    To teach 'computers'.

    "Are existing qualifications fit for purpose?"

    Professional qualifications - they're often managed by the proprietary bodies who make the software / hardware and they're probably not going to listen to anything Joe Public tell them.

    Academic qualifications - what /is/ their purpose, exactly? If you can tell me please do. I'm utterly baffled by the whole thing (and yes, I do have a degree from a reputable university).

    "Should computing even be taught in the school environment - do kids learn more outside the classroom?"

    That's just an abdication of responsibility. Stop abdicating your responsibilities. Try shouldering them instead.

    "Why do students study computing?"

    Have you tried asking them?

    "How much variety is there between different schools?"

    Maybe you should go and look.

    "Do computing qualifications carry as much weight with universities as, say, maths qualifications?"

    That depends which university you're looking at, and what you intend to study. Neither subject will carry much weight if you want to study English.

    "Is it a problem of perception?"

    Is /what/ a problem of perception?

    "Is this problem unique to the UK or could we learn from other countries?"

    It's not unique to the UK. I'd hazard a guess at saying pretty much everyone hates tech at one time or another - even teccies hate tech. Tech is complex and complicated and the results are often nebulous, and it's always changing, and there's a cartload of terminology (not to mention bullshit) that comes with the subject. The only peoplee who don't ever hate tech are the people who come up with the 'big idea' (= 'saleable crock of shit') and get someone else to implement it for them. These people are known as 'managers' (='idiots' if you're a teccie).

    There I've answered all the questions.

    Do I win something?

  33. John Styles
    Thumb Up

    Give 'The Silver Fox' the job

    or better still make him / her PM instead of the TV PR guy.

  34. TkH11


    In response to comments that computing courses in school have no purpose:

    I disagree. Admittedly, having taken a look at current GCSE courses in Computing/ICT they seem to me to be quite useless.

    When I studied A level Computer Science back in 1984-1986, it was definitely extremely worthwhile. We studied everything from relatonal databases (what there was back then!), to data structures (linked lists, stacks, binary trees), to high level languages and low level languages including compiliation and assembly..

    These things were relevant back then and they're still very relevant today.

    Now, the real question is, has A levels in Computer Science been dumbed down? Has the course content been changed so much that they are now like the GCSE's - completely useless?>

    1. Anonymous Coward

      I couldn't agree more

      > Admittedly, having taken a look at current GCSE courses in

      > Computing/ICT they seem to me to be quite useless.

      I've got kids who have recently been through the ICT GCSE and A level courses. GCSE is mind-numbingly dull and irrelevant. They're either "taught" stuff they already know or the course material is so out of date that it's useless. Or both, more often than not.

      Part of the problem seems to be that the courses derive from extensive studies of the whole computing environment (I hate that "ICT" moniker) which are then organised into a course that assumes you're starting from knowing nothing. This whole sorry exercise takes two or three years and subsequent revisions to the course take about as long.

      When I was looking through the course prospectuses at GCSE, AS and A2 levels I was struck by how incredibly out of date and how primitive it all was. My 73 year old mother knows more than that.

      The premise that the pupils know nothing is flawed. There's so much exposure to all aspects of computing that you don't need one to know what facebook is, to want an iPod, to know that there's an Internet and you google things. (Sorry, Google)

      You also can't construct a course based on observations made three years ago. The computing environment is changing too fast for that. If you were looking to construct a GCSE for three years hence what would you include in the course? iPad? ChromeOS tablets? Android tablets? Android phones? iPhone? Kindle? DNSSEC? Ubuntu? Ubuntu 10.10?

      The last one is an exercise in futility. In three years time Ubuntu 10.10 will be long gone.

      And what about facebook, flickr, youtube, google, twitter and ebay? What about the ones that are going to dominate our lives in three or four years?

      And what, most especially, what about the course module dedicated to The Register?

      1. jake Silver badge

        That word "computer", I don't think it means what you think it does ...

        "The computing environment is changing too fast for that. If you were looking to construct a GCSE for three years hence what would you include in the course? iPad? ChromeOS tablets? Android tablets? Android phones? iPhone? Kindle?"

        Them's all appliances, not computers.

        "And what about facebook, flickr, youtube, google, twitter and ebay."

        That's all marketing & advertising, and has nothing to do with computing.

        "What about the ones that are going to dominate our lives in three or four years?"

        That word "dominate" ... Some of us haven't succumbed to the mass media.

        "And what, most especially, what about the course module dedicated to The Register?"

        ::snort:: Redtops are redtops ...

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