Put computing in its rightful place

7th December 2007 at 00:00
I was very pleased to read your article about computer science ("What lies underneath?" November 23). I am a self-confessed convert to the refreshing work being carried out by Quintin Cutts, which you reported.

I did feel, however, that the article only touched on what is a real problem facing computing in Scotland: a lack of understanding of what the subject is actually about. It's not just the fact that "we are becoming a nation of tool users, not tool builders" but that the two areas - ICT skills and computer science - are seen as one and the same by those who are responsible for the curriculum.

For several years, there has been a focus on developing ICT use among staff and pupils - the so-called "digital literacy" that enables people to communicate and make use of the technology. Unfortunately, what this has not addressed is a real need to foster "digital creativity". That is, the ability to understand and further develop the technology. This is what matters to businesses, giving them the ability to develop new IT products and maintain a technological advantage.

This confusion of "true" computing with ICT skills has led to the typical situation in many schools around the country where computing is taught in the first and second years as part of a general ICT course. The normal topics are based around application use and the time is shared between two or even more departments. Some pupils don't see a computing department until Standard grade. Computing has lost its identity as a distinct - and scientific - subject.

Computing teachers must reassert this lost identity and CPD, such as that offered by the Computing Science Inside project, is a step in the right direction. Another positive step would be national subject promotion and development opportunities.

If computing is to develop in schools and the decline in students applying to study at universities is to be reversed, it is vital we promote the difference between ICT and computing. Senior school management and local authorities must take on board this crucial difference and give computing its rightful place in the curriculum.

Mark J Tennant, computing teacher and subject support co-ordinator, East Lothian.

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