We have a work experience lad working with us at the moment. Nothing unusual about that, we have several through the year. And nothing unusual about the fact that he’s studying ICT, nor the fact that his understanding of “computing” is pretty much limited to the use of Word and Excel.
Computers are tools to do a job, but they need programming to do that job. Using a computer to do a simple task like adding up numbers or write a letter is not “computing”, its maths or English respectively. We didn’t get taught to use calculators in “Technology” lessons, we used them in maths where they belong, and spreadsheets belong there too; how many kids who leave school and get a job will realistically find themselves doing maths without using a spreadsheet?
(Don’t even get me started on the fact they learn Excel not “spreadsheets”; I was in the majority at my school in having a Casio calculator, but nobody was frowned upon for using a Texas Instruments one. There are many spreadsheet alternatives, OpenOffice.org and Google Docs to name just two.)
Using spreadsheets and word processors are key skills that everyone should get at school, but somebody somewhere still needs to learn how to write that software, and to set the computers up and the networks they run on. Computers were in their relatively early stages when I was at school, but we were taught to program in Basic on the BBC, and younger kids were controlling a robot using Logo (right 60, forward 50, right 60, forward 50, right 60, forward 50 – yay, a triangle!). These days kids are using computers daily when they get home from school and are learning faster than ever – how to download a dodgy copy of Vista to upgrade their old PC, how to “get hold of” Microsoft Office because that’s what they use at school, how to get MP3’s without paying for them. Surely some amongst them are keen to learn to program the box in front of them as well?