Do ICT programmes need an upgrade?

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Do ICT programmes need an upgrade?

Category: Before Class
Do ICT programmes need an upgrade?
by Oliver Quinlan
With the onward march of digital technologies through almost all sectors, there have been calls for some years to upgrade how we teach about these technologies in schools. In the UK we have seen wholesale curriculum change, and other countries are following suit, or are there already. But are these upgrades really providing what young people will need in the future workplace?

Across the world

Across the world there have been many initiatives encouraging young people to learn programming or computer science. In England this lead to including programming and computational thinking, alongside traditional ICT skills, into a new statutory subject: Computing. At GCSE and A level, ICT is being ‘superseded’ by Computer Science. These changes provide opportunities for all young people to be introduced to technical digital skills. The exam courses should allow all those who choose to the chance to develop these technical skills to a high level.

This provides a route for those people who want to become programmers and software developers, to fill the shortage of people in these specifically technical roles. However, if all jobs are becoming increasingly reliant on sophisticated technologies, what about those that will need to understand the influence of digital technology in fields other than the tech sector itself?

Computation is making many new things possible in all kinds of work

Much of the work of modern scientists is not possible without interacting with modelling, simulation, and techniques requiring sophisticated applications of computational thinking.

Even the legal profession has a keen eye on the effects of technology on their business, with machine learning predicted by the Royal Society to undertake due diligence work and provide legal advice to clients. Half of US jobs have been identified as vulnerable to automation by Oxford University researchers. Many jobs as we know them will be automated in the future.

These changes go well beyond the well documented need for more specialist software developers. They need people with an education that includes both the traditional context of a profession and advanced understanding of digital technology and computational thinking. Providing an introduction to these skills early in school in a subject like Computing is a good start. However, providing higher level skills only in Computer Science qualifications that are currently perceived as something for aspiring specialists won’t provide enough people with these skills.

In Wales

In wales the situation is different. The entire Welsh curriculum, including what was ICT, is under reform. What emerges will include specialist work in computing, but also a ‘Digital Competence Framework’ which is the responsibility of all teachers across the curriculum. This includes an ambitious strand on data and computational thinking, meaning teachers of all subjects will have to integrate the development of skills in these areas into their teaching.

Looking at the trends in both the world of work and our school systems, perhaps we should be looking beyond the ICT programmes for an upgrade. These programmes have an important role in introducing young people to the ideas behind digital technology, and for providing routes for those that aspire to be specialists. However, preparing everyone to thrive in modern work is going to require an understanding of how those all subjects interact with the complex and powerful possibilities technology brings.

Oliver Quinlan

Oliver Quinlan is an educator, researcher and author of ‘The Thinking Teacher’. He has been a school teacher, a university lecturer, and run digital education and research programmes for UK charities. He blogs on learning and technology at