EDUCATION FILE: Three-year-olds in Wales could learn computing
In a world where people are constantly using apps on computers, tablets and mobile phones at work and during their spare time, the younger generation could soon be learning how to code and the science of computing from the age of three. EMMA MACKINTOSH investigates
LAST week Assembly education minister Huw Lewis received a report on the future of computer science and information and communications technology (ICT) in schools in Wales, investigating what government can do to influence curricula and get more children interested in coding, computing and the industry as a whole.
The report by an independent steering group - which included representatives from industry, South Wales universities and Glyn Rogers of Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw, Pontypool - considers whether ICT in schools needs to be reformed.
“Learners need to be taught to create, as well as to consume,” was one of the premises explored by the group, which is particularly relevant in a world where more and more youngsters are developing their own apps and web pages.
The report recommended a new subject named ‘computing’ should be created to replace ICT from the foundation phase onwards - which would affect children as young as three - split into two areas, computer science and information technology.
This is similar to what UK government education minister Michael Gove has proposed for English schools.
The group called for computing to be integrated into the curriculum in Wales as “the fourth science”, served by a mandatory programme of study, and receive the same status as the other three sciences.
Interestingly, the curriculum will even attempt to change perceptions of computing, to recognise the “key societal roles” of computing and technology, as well as promoting the importance and diversity of IT careers.
With careers in the sector in mind, the group also called for engagement and collaboration between education and industry, describing it as being integral, and stressed all entrants to the teaching profession should be able to deliver the curriculum.
Mr Lewis described the sector as a “driving force for social change”, encouraging productivity and competiveness across the economy, and yet Welsh students often “perceive learning about computing in a negative way”, he said.
This is despite schools across Wales, such as Chepstow’s The Dell School, embracing digital technology in the form of computer tablets like iPads, which teachers describe as actually focussing children’s attention in class rather than allowing their minds to wander.
In a bid to make programming and the creation of digital technology more mainstream, the charity Nesta and the Nominet Trust have opened the Digital Makers Fund, a £250,000 pot of cash to back ideas that help young people make digital technology.
The fund’s website states: “We want making with technology to become as accessible an activity as making music or making food.”
Earlier this year, in partnership with Mozilla, the Digital Makers Fund awarded £260,000 to seven projects, including the South Wales-based company Technocamps, which is working with the University of South Wales (USW) to teach kids coding and programming.
The Technocamps project has already seen more than 2,500 youngsters aged 11 to 19 come through its doors, and is set to give 1,500 more young people the opportunity to learn programming, app development and games design.
This includes workshops and bootcamps to get to grips with Games Salad, Alice, Scratch, App Inventor, Robotics, iOS App development, Computer Games Ethics, Sketch Patch and Wearables.
So far children from Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw, Blackwood, Abertillery and Ebbw Vale Learning Zone have visited Technocamps’ hub at USW, most of them aged around 14, explained regional coordinator Dr Sian Jones.
The Gwynllyw pupils were particularly successful in the 2013 Technocamps National Robotics competition at Big Bang Cymru, in which after months of hard work designing and building their Lego robot, Cador Morgan and his team mates won the day.
“We are really filling a gap between children who can use technology and students that have to make technology at university,” said Dr Jones.
“When we started there was nothing that was bridging that gap.
“We use university facilities and it’s also about bringing children on to university campuses.”
With plans afoot to get children learning about coding and making their own digital technology, what was once only the preserve of tech geniuses and niche programmers could soon be coming to a dining room table near you.
To apply for the Digital Makers Fund yourself, you must attend a Digital Makers workshop on October 30 in Bristol, before submitting a two minutes video pitch and a short application before November 14.
Videos must be uploaded to Vimeo and publicly available. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to pitch their proposal to a panel in January 2014, confirmation of awards will be made in February.
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