No more British geeks? Government set to "slash and burn" digital education in UK.

The UK government is looking to remove Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) from the core curriculum and remove funding for it entirely. Anna Debenham, who recently attended a Think Tank organised by Naace, just wrote a blog post on what was discussed that summarizes the status quo. In it, she states:

I was saddened to learn that many of the people in the room were in the process of being made redundant. Schools are already axing ICT from their offerings, before the government has even announced anything. Their whole budgets cut, they see the subject as expensive and expendable. The process was described as "slash and burn".

And it gets worse:

Most worrying of all was the discussion around City Learning Centres (CLCs). These were introduced in 2001 and they're purpose-built state of the art computer and multimedia suites. They're available for schools and businesses to use. The centres have equipment that many schools can't afford to buy, which makes it more cost effective because schools can collectively share the facilities available. Students can make use of Apple Macs, specialist software and equipment, industrial sized printers, video and radio equipment. This not only helps supplement the current IT curriculum, but is also available for extra-curricular, training and business use, which is much needed in disadvantaged areas.

I'm furious and I'm not even British. I have, however, for the last ten years made this country my home and I care deeply about its people and its future. If you happen to be British, you should be utterly livid. This move is a nuclear bomb dropped on Britain's digital future. It is a clear indication that the current government does not understand the value of digital literacy.

So what should we do?

ICT in its current form is broken. It is probably broken beyond repair. We are teaching kids secretarial skills, not digital literacy. If you want to put a kid off of computers, introduce them to computing with Microsoft Office. That is basically what we're going in ICT today and the results are a year-on-year drop in the number of kids taking GCSE ICT.

So this could be the perfect opportunity to replace ICT with something better. But that doesn't seem to be what the government is after.

The government's suggested solution is to ignore the problem and cut all funding for digital literacy altogether. They must hope that somehow – magically, perhaps – students will learn this stuff and we'll end up with a generation of digitally-literate producers (as opposed to merely consumers). With overworked teachers struggling to teach the curriculum as it currently stands, that's just not going to happen unless an instructor here or there goes out of her way to incorporate digital education into her class.

The answer should be to tackle the problem and fix it. Replace ICT with something better: with compulsory digital literacy classes in the core curriculum complimented by the introduction of digital literacy as a cross-cutting concern across the wider curriculum. And, while we're at it, let's support the use of open source solutions whenever possible in these classes. Lets teach kids concepts and provide them with solid foundations that they can apply to any platform in the future, be it open or proprietary, instead of training them in the specifics of using a certain proprietary technology.

Regardless of the specifics of the solution we replace ICT with, the last thing we should be doing is to cut funding for digital literacy. Quite on the contrary, we should be redoubling our efforts and our investment to fix it. Britain's digital future deserves no less.

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