Over the last few years I have noticed a dispiriting trend in schools: less and less discreet ICT being taught in fewer and fewer schools. This seems odd in the face of the massive increase in and reliance on ICT in the very same schools. Whilst, yes, I am an ICT teacher, I can’t shake the feeling that there is something very wrong with this picture. Our entire history and survival as a species has been facilitated and extended by the application and development of technology, and ICT is the most disruptive and powerful technology of our time. Surely now is the time to teach students to really understand, respect, master and, ultimately, tame ICT. How else can we prepare our students to be happy, balanced and productive individuals?
So, what could be causing this disparity between need and reality? The sections below explore some of the factors.
It is not a surprise that most students are more tech savvy than their teachers, and that this pattern is most notable (in general) amongst older teachers. In particular, it seems, that this gulf is widest between school leaders/administrators and those they are making decisions for. The result of this a perception amongst teachers that students are already prepared for the ICT-enabled world, and that curriculum time is better spent elsewhere. This view is most extreme in those who subscribe to the theory of digital natives. However, if you really look closely at student ability, you see a patchy set of skills, underscored by need, not holistic understanding and context. It seems that this illusion of broad competence and understanding is extremely harmful in making sure students really are ready for what the future holds.
In a lot of schools, especially in the IB world, ICT teaching has been rolled into, or subsumed by, other subjects. As a result, there may be the presence of ICT outcomes, but they are not being delivered by specialist ICT teachers. As anyone who has studied and worked in ICT can tell you, ICT is so broad and complex, that just lighting up the map of its constituent parts takes years. Leaving the sharing of such knowledge to non-specialists seems a big ask, no matter how well designed the curriculum, or how noble the intentions.
Edit: of course, ICT does need to be integrated across the curriculum as well, as it can enhance almost any area of study. However, I believe without dedicated, discreet, specialist instruction, other ICT use will certainly not be as powerful as it could. Thanks to @danfbridge for helping me to clarify this.
Users, Not Makers
Following from the sections above, and owing to a lack of specialist teachers, it seems that where ICT is covered it often focuses on students merely applying existing technology. As a result the majority of students leave school without any idea of how ICT technologies are built, and with zero hands on experience tinkering with hardware, software and networks. There is little doubt that the future will belong to those who control information and information systems (yes, this is the way it has always been, but the game is changing in terms of the tools used). Why then, are we focused on producing users, when what we really need is students with the knowledge and skills to build, assess, improve and overthrow technologies?
I have heard it said that “ICT is not sexy”, and so it is a hard sell. Whilst I disagree with this axiom, even if it were true, so what? Maths and English are far from sexy, but their importance as key literacies are recognised and appropriately reflected is school design. It is hard to argue that mastery of ICT is not a key literacy in the emerging, information-driven economy. As to the original axiom: given our fascination with shiny little gadgets, ICT sure seems sexy to me…too sexy in fact, which is a perspectives students definitely need a place to consider.
Whilst ICT engagement initially seems gender neutral, it is clear that older girls are, at some point, being turned off studying ICT. Whilst I have yet to identify why this is happening amongst my own students, it is something that I will be researching this year, and that I hope to start tackling in the near future. The sad truth is that an ICT sector powered only by men is one that is much diminished and terminally misguided for a lack of women. Equally, it is sad to see so many young girls move away from pursuits and careers which can be so fulfilling. Ultimately, as an ICT teacher, it is clear that to drive uptake and penetration of ICT is schools, we need to keep girls engaged.
Whilst I have these points clear in my mind, what I currently lack is the means to interest more schools in the teaching and learning of ICT. What I am certain of, however, is that this is an area that needs serious attention as we shape the future of education.