Note of Event: An ICT Revolution?
“An ICT Revolution? Introducing Computer Science in Schools:
The Opportunities and Challenges”
18th April 2012
Macmillan Room, Portcullis House, House of Commons
Download: An ICT Revolution – Note of Event
Andrew Miller MP, Vice-chair, PICTFOR
Alex Hope OBE, Co-author of the ‘Next Gen’ Report and CEO of Double Negative
Dr Peter Dickman, Engineering Manager, Google
Dr Mike Short, President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology
Dr Jo Twist, Chief Executive, UKIE
Dr Eben Upton, Founder of Raspberry Pi, Technical Director at Broadcom Europe
Hannah Broadbent, Policy and Research Officer, Childnet
The six speakers brought together by PICTFOR and Next Gen Skills showed a clear determination to improve and advance a computer science curriculum in schools. Speakers agreed that the important and fast-growing high-tech industries required better educated young people in order to sustain growth. To reach the aims of better teaching, self-directed learning, improved skills and a sense of the dangers and responsibilities of digital life, it was critical that the government, charities, and the private sector coordinate to understand the current challenges and take action for immediate and long-term change.
Note of Event
The Chair, Andrew Miller MP, opened the discussion. He remarked that PICTFOR parliamentarians and industry executives had recently focussed on enhancing computer science education in schools, and thanked Next Gen Skills for helping devise an event of such robust joint interest.
The Chair introduced the first panellist, Alex Hope OBE, CEO of the successful visual effects firm Double Negative. Mr Hope introduced the NESTA/’Next Gen’ report of which he was a co-author. He said that visual effects was the fastest growing part of the movie industry, but that there was a serious skills shortage impacting on the ability of UK firms to hire home grown talent. Highly-skilled worker visas had to be offered so that British companies could handle their business.
In 2010, the creative industries minister, Ed Vaizey MP, asked Mr Hope and games maker Ian Livingstone to write a report addressing this problem. Their Next Gen report was informed by discussions with a cross-section of stakeholders in schools, universities, training and creative professions. They found a clear need to reform the teaching of proper computer science skills in schools and increase opportunities for cross-curricular learning across science, maths, technology and the arts. The entire report may be viewed here: http://www.nesta.org.uk/publications/assets/features/next_gen.
Dr Peter Dickman, Engineering Manager at Google, discussed the importance of generating new talent in order to develop new products for the enormously valuable industries involving computer science. He noted that the industry requires broad education, and suggested re-introducing proper computer science to help discover the coders, engineers and programmers of the future.
Dr Eben Upton, the Founder of Raspberry Pi (http://www.raspberrypi.org/) and Technical Director at Broadcom Europe, observed that many people his age began programming outside of school. In an age before game consoles and PCs, programming prompts represented a beguiling blank slate for creative young minds. With current technology having since obscured the science behind computers, he hoped his new device would reinvigorate the power of self-directed learning.
Dr Mike Short, President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said that the rise of the smartphone since its introduction 20 years ago had made digital computers ubiquitous. He recommended: Teaching and learning ‘real computing’ from ages 5-19; embedding ‘digital’ skills across every subject; and moving swiftly to keep the UK on the leading edge.
Dr Jo Twist, Chief Executive of the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE), advanced some of the thinking behind the Next Gen skills coalition. Their research found that both students and teachers often thought ICT courses were boring, quickly out of date, and not innovative enough. She added that too few qualified teachers had actually been trained to teach computer science, and that too few ethnic minority and female students engaged with the discipline. In order to sustain growth in British high-tech industries, she recommended: Asserting computer science as a key subject; setting tough targets for improvement; and improving coordination between schools, industry, and professional bodies to keep kids “programming, not being programmed”.
Finally, Hannah Broadbent, Policy and Research Officer at Childnet, brought in the importance of teaching young people how to stay safe online. She cited Childnet’s balanced approach, aimed at maximising both internet freedom and safety. The challenge was to create a notion of digital citizenship that addressed safety, intellectual property, copyright and technology issues.