Over the past decade, there's been an important shift in the National Curriculum for technology and computing. The relevant subject in the curriculum used to be Information and Communication Technology, or ICT for short. A few years ago, this was replaced with Computing. The change is not just a rebranding. There's a significant difference between the two subjects and educators and professionals in many industries have welcomed the change.
In this post, I'll look at the difference between the two subjects and why today's computing curriculum is better-placed to help students with the knowledge and skills they'll need in the future. I'll also look at where there's still room for improvement.
ICT vs Computing. Same Difference?
No. These two are very different subjects. ICT looks at information and communication and how it's used in our society. Children learn about different ways of communicating and dealing with information using technology. The general perception was that this was a relatively lightweight subject. One example often used as a criticism of ICT is the part of the subject that teaches them how to use spreadsheets and word processors. Yes, kids will need to use these tools, although focusing too much on tools can have its perils as tools become obsolete very quickly. And kids can often learn how to use these tools without too much help!
Computing is a more technical subject that dives deeper into computers and computing technology. The focus is not on using computers as an end-user, but on understanding how computers work, such as by learning to code. Many wrongly assume that computing is the same as coding. Computing is a broader subject, and coding is only one part of it. For guidance, we've created a handy parents' guide to coding.
Although ICT and Computing are very different subjects, there is some overlap in who they are taught in practice. Some aspects of computing were covered in the old ICT curriculum, and in today's Computing curriculum, there are some ICT topics too. But the shift has been a clear one toward the more academically-focused subject that leads to Computer Science.
How Effective is Today's Computing Curriculum
As with every change, not everyone shares the same views. Some criticised the shift away from ICT towards Computing as Computing is a harder subject, on paper at least, and this may put off some students. Others criticised the new curriculum from the other end of the spectrum as it doesn't go far enough. You can never please everyone!
The reality is that some aspects of computing are hard to teach thoroughly and academically. Coding is a prime example of this. I, too, would have ideally liked to see a lot more in the coding part of the Computing curriculum. The amount of coding included in the curriculum is very limited.
However, having visited many schools and talked to many teachers and pupils, I appreciate why the curriculum's authors didn't include more coding. Schools don't have the resources and the personnel to teach coding beyond the very basics. As a result, some students are put off coding. This is either because they find it boring—they're only learning some of the very basics and not going further—or because they find it hard as it's being taught to them by someone who's not experienced in writing computer programs.
There may be no easy solutions to delivering a more thorough computing curriculum, especially when it comes to coding. This doesn't meant we shouldn't try. Using expert programmers who are also good communicators to deliver coding lessons with the help of a teacher is one promising route. Especially now that remote lessons are possible and acceptable.
However, the least difficult improvement we could make to the teaching of computing in general, and coding in particular, is to change its perception by the public and ensure that everyone understands what the subject really is. We often get parents who want their children to start to learn to code and they reassure us that their son or daughter are likely to do very well in coding as they're very good at using their iPad. This is not the parents' fault. It's up to us—all of us who work in the computing and coding education sector—to help change this perception