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Scientists back overhaul of schools’ ICT curriculum

April 30 2013


Vic Grout CAS
‘World-leading’ computer scientists at Glyndwr University back a radical overhaul of secondary schools’ ICT curriculum.

Head of Computing Vic Grout hopes dramatic changes to existing learning methods in England will be followed by the Welsh Government.

UK education secretary Michael Gove labelled the current curriculum "demotivating and dull", while Leighton Andrews, Wales’ Minister for Education and Skills unveiled an ICT steering group earlier this year aimed at improving the way the subject is taught in schools.

Prof Grout would like to see a more flexible curriculum in computer science and programming and, together with colleagues from the Wrexham university, has been teaching pupils in North East Wales more about the subject thanks to an education bursary from the British Computer Society (BCS). 

The Turing at Glyndwr project – named in memory of Alan Turing, widely regarded as the founder of computer science – has been running for almost a year and is the only one of its kind in Wales.

Glyndwr’s work in computer science was deemed to be ‘world-leading’ in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, and Prof Grout is confident a positive change in the ICT landscape will lead to an improvement in talent entering at degree level.

“That in turn will lead to a big change in the way computing or computer science is taught over the next 10 to 20 years,” he said. 

“Hopefully we will go the same way in Wales as they have in England, we’ll have to wait and see.  For two or three decades IT - or ICT - has been delivered in a very uninspiring way.  For a country that practically invented the computer it’s a shame the UK is in this position.

“When I was at school you learnt how to program, how to design a system and the necessary maths and data techniques to support it. Where that method of teaching went and why it went I’m not entirely sure but we really have collectively taken our eyes off the ball.”

Prof Grout says the advent of CAS (Computing at Schools), which was created to put the excitement back into the subject, has had a major effect.

But there are still issues to be ironed out.

“The big problem is, on the whole, the schools can’t deliver a new curriculum because they haven’t got the teachers to do so,” he said.

“Few teachers are properly trained so part of the role of Glyndwr University, besides getting ready to welcome all of these wonderful computer students we’re going to get over the next few years, is to get out to the schools and help them in any way we can.

“We’ve been looking specifically at the three counties in our catchment area – Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham – and with the money from the BCS have been able to take 16 Lego robot kits from Techniquest and show them how to do real programming.

“We would love to get to every school in the area but are only working with seven at the moment.

“There is very little money involved in this, it’s all voluntary, which is why we’re trying to get the job done. The curriculum is being changed from the ground up which will benefit us in the long run but it’s going to be really challenging for a while. We’re looking for additional funding to expand the project.”

Prof Grout added: “If we’re eventually getting new levels of students in with more knowledge it means we’ll have to raise our game as well.

“We’ll have to wait and see what the Welsh ICT steering group comes out with but there are some good technical people on that committee. It’s just a shame it has such a South Wales bias.  However, I’m confident it will make the right decisions. 

“It doesn’t worry me if they bring in a new computer science curriculum because we’ll be ready for it.”

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