Monday, February 27, 2012

Capacity Focus, 35: The Royal Society (UK) Furber Report on Computing in schools -- the need to move beyond digital literacy to digital productivity through education in Information, Communication AND Control Technologies for all

The UK's Royal Society has just issued a major report on Computing in Schools, which, in a key clip, says:

At the turn of the century, the [UK] government responded to business needs by establishing Computing as a component of the National Curriculum, under the heading of ‘ICT’ – Information and Communications Technology – a mixture of many related components . . . We appear to have succeeded in making many people comfortable with using the technology that we find around us, but this seems to have been at the expense of failing to provide a deeper understanding of the rigorous academic subject of Computer Science and exposure to the opportunities for interest, excitement and creativity that even a modest mastery of the subject offers . . . .

We [Furber et al] aspire to an outcome where every primary school pupil has the opportunity to explore the creative side of Computing through activities such as writing computer programs (using a pupil-friendly programming environment such as Scratch1). At secondary school every pupil should have the opportunity to work with microcontrollers and simple robotics, build web-based systems, and similar activities. We recognise that not all pupils will wish to seize these opportunities, but they should be able to do so if they do wish to.
1 NB: Scratch is a “lego-brick” style educational programming language developed through MIT. Alice and Greenfoot are similar initiatives. Greenfoot has the advantage that it is in effect Java, and Alice “now” integrates with Java.
It is clear that the UK  is now contemplating giving all students a serious level exposure to computing, from primary level on, and that at secondary level, they are calling for exposure to the application of computing to control technologies, including microcontrollers and robotics. 

In short they see that digital literacy is not enough, we need digital productivity too.

This acknowledged need, of course, is the context of the recently released Raspberry Pi "computer on a business-card sized motherboard" and it underscores the significance of the stress on "adding a second C" to the now common ICT, for Control: ICCT. (Both of these issues have been discussed recently in the KF blog, here and here. Computer programming "for all" has been discussed here.)

What may be astonishing to many is the idea that all students should get exposure to computer programming from primary school level. 

A glance at an MIT video on how the Scratch language presents programming as a lego-bricks style click to build exercise can help us see how that would work:

Intro to Scratch from ScratchEd on Vimeo.

I am sure that this approach could be useful for a great many people who have gone on beyond the primary school age range! 

Indeed, the approach is now emerging as more or less standard for first educational programming languages, e.g. Alice and Greenfoot. (I would emphasise using a language that offers an easy migration path to Java or is a form of Java itself, as Greenfoot is.) 

In short, it looks like we can see a way to begin to build the digital productivity capacity we need to add to the digital literacy capacity that we increasingly recognise we need. END