Computing - Helping schools to speak the language of the future: tech

7th February 2014 at 00:00
Government investment will boost access and internet speeds

Nearly $3 billion (pound;1.84 billion) will be spent in US schools to improve access to technology in the classroom, it was announced this week, as governments on both sides of the Atlantic underlined the importance of technology to the futures of their young people.

President Barack Obama praised the commitment of business leaders as companies such as Apple and Microsoft pledged to donate $750 million worth of devices and software over the next five years, with the aim of improving access to technology for nine in 10 students.

The president also announced that he would double the federal government's investment to improve internet speeds in schools and libraries to $2 billion, which is expected to help 20 million students in at least 15,000 schools.

In the same week in England, Chancellor George Osborne and education secretary Michael Gove launched a pound;500,000 scheme to train teachers to deliver lessons in software coding. A new computing curriculum will be taught in schools from September.

The moves by both governments show the emphasis they are placing on developing students' computer skills as part of their long-term economic plans.

Mr Obama said the commitment came as the US tried to prepare its children to compete in the global economy, adding that the type of 21st-century technology needed for students was available in too few schools.

Just 30 per cent of US schools have access to high-speed internet enabling them to carry out basic tasks, such as streaming video content, the White House said, which was something that the Obama administration intended to change.

"Today, the average American school has about the same internet bandwidth as the average American home, but it serves 200 times as many people," Mr Obama said. "In a country where we expect free wi-fiwith our coffee, we should definitely demand it in our schools."

This week, the UK's Department for Education launched its new teacher training scheme as part of the Year of Code, a government initiative that aims to get more young people learning computer programming. The pound;500,000 pledge will mean new and existing teachers will be trained to teach code by industry experts. The scheme is backed by companies such as Google and Microsoft.

By placing computing in the national curriculum, England has become the first country to mandate computer science for all students between the ages of 5 and 14. Mr Gove said the extra funding should be used by IT firms, university computing departments and software developers "to share their knowledge with the next generation".

"The new computing curriculum will give our children the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century," the education secretary said. "That is why we replaced the obsolete and boring curriculum with one that is forward-thinking."

The government has already increased its bursaries to try to attract more people to teach computing, with scholarships of up to pound;25,000 on offer, backed by companies such as Google, IBM and Facebook. Rohan Silva, former adviser to prime minister David Cameron and now chair of the Year of Code, said the latest initiatives would give students a better chance to compete in the wider world.

"Computer coding is the lingua franca of the global technology economy," Mr Silva said. "If the UK is to remain at the vanguard of innovation worldwide, we need to ensure that our workforce is equipped with the skills of the 21st century, not of the past."

Miles Berry, board member of UK ICT subject association Naace and principal lecturer in computing at the University of Roehampton, said: "There is a really positive picture emerging that shows how technology, in education in general, can be used to empower students regardless of what they are studying; that they can learn pretty much anything thanks to it."

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