Computer Education vs Computing Education

Computers are now common place in schools. However, despite the perception that today's young people are tech wizards, it's possible that their parents actually had a better comprehension of what computing is.

The BBC model B computer entered schools in the early 1980's. In addition to the large range of application software that developed over the years, one of the main strengths of the machine was that it offered a simple introduction to programming.
Contemporaneous 'home computers' developed by Sinclair, Commodore and their ilk similarly fuelled the appetite for computing in the young such that computing activity was often times split between playing games and writing programs of their own.

It is no coincidence that the UK games and software industry grew so rapidly at the end of this decade, and it was the years immediately after this generation graduated college that the Web grew so big, so quickly.

As computers became more mundane and every office desk sprouted a PC, the education around computing started to concentrate not on computing but on the use of computers. This is only to be expected, preparing young people for working life necessitates developing the skills they will need in employment and so writing basic programs gave way to using word processors, spreadsheets, design packages and the dreaded presentation.

Consequently, although today's school children are more familiar with computers and computer based devices, it could be argued that they understand less about their inner workings, capabilities and implications.
A computer is a tool. However, unlike a tenon saw for example, which has evolved with the input of craftspeople over hundreds of years to be a precision instrument with a specific optimum method of use, the computer is a highly flexible device ripe for use in any number of innovative new ways.
The concern is that by concentrating education on current usage, the potential for invention is lost.

A recent Government Report has highlighted this and has suggested a refocusing of ICT towards a greater degree of development and creation.

Of course, it's not just about computers any more. The Web evolved beyond an electronic publishing platform many years ago and is now better characterised as a computing platform, complete with distributed processing and data storage features and functions.
The notion of computing is now so closely tied with the connectivity between computers that in years to come it is likely that the invention of the PC and the subsequence connectivity of the Web will be seen as one and the same revolution.

From an e-safety point of view, this is all very important. Time and again we see preventable issues with communication technology being rooted in lack of understanding or comprehension as to the repercussions of our online actions. By focusing computing education on computing practice rather than scope and capability we risk not correctly equipping our young people to critically assess their actions now and in the future.

It is no small task. We are faced with training our children for a future involving societal practice and jobs that don't yet exist, which will utilise technology yet to be invented. The best way to do this is as with other subject areas, to provide a solid foundation of first principles which can be applied to new problems as they arise.

Written by E-safety Support on October 10, 2013 14:30


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