The acceleration in digital learning during the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the importance of computing as a subject, and the need for teachers of this high-demand subject now and in the future.
With the increased use of technology as businesses rapidly adopt new digital practices, it’s vital that students leave school not just digitally literate but equipped with the computing skills necessary to move into the roles that we will need for success in our future economy. For this to happen, having good staff and an engaging computing curriculum is a must.
According to Dave Gibbs, educational lead at STEM Learning, one of the consortium partners for the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE) – along with the Raspberry Pi Foundation and BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT – the way that teachers have embraced technology to engage students during the move to remote teaching has been inspiring.
“Teachers faced a steep learning curve during the first lockdown in March 2020. When a return to remote teaching for most students was announced in January, teachers were much better informed and resourced. Platforms such as Google Classrooms and Managed Learning Environments (MLEs) used to be niche tools, only used by a handful of edtech enthusiasts. Now teachers, and students, have become adept users.”
Indeed, attitudes to tech have shifted: once seen by some as a burden, technology is now very much part of pedagogy, not just for the duration of the pandemic but as a long-term option to enhance teaching and learning in all subject areas.
Teachers are in an excellent position to continue upskilling both themselves and their students as the world continues this accelerated shift towards digital.
Preparing students for the workplace
Education isn’t the only sector to see this uptake in the use of technology in the past 12 months and, once coronavirus is more under control, many experts feel certain it will play a crucial part in society’s recovery.
Tom Crick, professor of digital education and policy at Swansea University, says that computer science and the wider IT sector will provide solutions to the numerous challenges presented in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic.
“The academic discipline of computer science is critical in so many areas – from computational modelling, the use of AI, machine learning and big data, to framing the wider legal, social, ethical and professional issues, to contact tracing, secure personal data storage/sharing, and the widespread use of image recognition and surveillance.”
“No area of life will be untouched,” agrees Gibbs. “Flexible working, blended approaches to training and increased consumer demand for convenience are here to stay. We’re seeing a massively accelerated shift for businesses and organisations of all kinds towards digital engagement and, with that acceleration, the demand for those skills increases.”
Antony Walker, deputy chief executive of techUK, predicts a new wave of rapid, large-scale automation, and new challenges for the government and the tech sector to equip people and businesses with the skills they will need.
“As new technologies become more widespread, we anticipate whole new industries and roles will be created.
“How we enable individuals and companies to take advantage of these opportunities, and prepare the workforce to adapt to these changes, is one of the most critical policy discussions facing us today,” says Walker.
Starting in the classroom
Schools are, of course, the obvious place to ignite an interest in computer science and cultivate a skilled workforce to meet future needs. Andy Colley, a lead teacher at St Mary’s Catholic High School in Tyldesley, believes a coherent digital strategy is needed in all schools to enable computer science teachers to take students beyond the functional and truly equip them for a constantly evolving digital landscape.
“Just because our students have grown up using technology, it doesn’t mean they necessarily use it wisely, safely or are predisposed to being ‘good’ at computing,” he says. “They need specialist teaching that underpins and gives context to the technology they’re using.
“Of course, technical skills are essential. But influential figures in the field are also highlighting the professional and personal skills required by those entering the tech workforce: being adaptable, resilient and able to solve problems, for example.”
Walker agrees that technical skills are only part of the picture, citing diversity as a critical descriptor for the tech workforce of the future. “We live in interesting times, where your university place, your mortgage and your job interview are all decided by an algorithm, and that algorithm does not necessarily cater for all of us.
“If we are to thrive in a digital future which includes everybody, we must ensure that we all have our voices heard when it comes to designing technology.”
The good news is that computing in schools is growing – computer science is currently the fastest-growing subject at GCSE – and, since the launch of the NCCE in November 2018, there has been a wealth of support available for those teachers diversifying into computer science or considering teaching or leading the subject in school.
“We’re trying to make the transition to computer science – or the process of adding another string to your bow – less daunting,” says Gibbs. “The training is fully funded by the DfE, with bursaries available for the completion of certain courses. Since the pandemic, they’ve become even more flexible, with regular holiday and twilight sessions.
“Last summer, we also launched our Teach Computing Curriculum, with over 500 hours of teaching materials to deliver the entire computing curriculum from key stages 1 to 4 in England.”
A perfect time, then, to capitalise on how the shift to remote learning has reinvigorated many within the teaching profession. Gibbs and Colley both emphasise the significant benefits for students of being taught computer science by a subject specialist in another area, such as when teachers approach lessons by drawing on examples and context from across the curriculum.
“Often, teachers don’t realise just how valuable this sort of input can be,” says Colley. “It really brings the real-world application of computing to life for young people.”
As with students, feeling confident is often the key to success. Gibbs feels that after the pandemic, many teachers’ confidence with technology will have risen through increased exposure.
“It really feels like we’re at a turning point,” he says. “This is an opportunity for all of us to level up.”
To find out more about the wide range of support available from the National Centre for Computing Education, visit teachcomputing.org.